Outgoing federal CIO warns of 'an IT cartel'

Vivek Kundra, in appearance before White House science committee, also tells of the risk of data sharing

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"I think the privacy implications are very, very serious," Kundra said. "From a national security perspective what we've done is we've made sure that the NSC (National Security Council) is involved as we're vetting some of these critical data sets."

Kundra was appointed two and half years ago by Obama as the nation's first government wide CIO. In taking that job in early 2009, he complained about big-contract boondoggles and of contractors who end up "on the payroll indefinitely."

If Kundra was frustrated by his job of managing $80 billion in federal IT annual spending, it may have been due to his inability to increase the mix of companies competing for federal work.

"How do we get some of the most innovative companies, the most innovative people, to actually come in and compete for federal contracts?" said Kundra.

Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman and a member of the White House committee, asked Kundra why the federal government didn't try to get the same savings corporations do through standardization.

"Does that model [standardization] make sense to you? And, if so, why does it not occur," Schmidt said. "In other words, is it because people want to have control over their own systems? Is it because of the way the funding works? Are there legitimate governmental reasons why such a standardized platform doesn't emerge?"

Kundra said the reason the federal system "defied logic" is partly due to how funding is allocated. There isn't a single committee in Congress devoted to technology, a committee "that's thinking about these issues horizontally," he said.

The funding is appropriated bureau by bureau, said Kundra.

The government today has 12,000 major systems. Kundra said he has urged consolidation, and cited initiatives such as the effort to cut the number of federal data centers. The government has some 2,000 data centers.

"My view is we should only have three major data centers across the entire U.S. government," said Kundra.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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