Obama's CIO quits

Vivek Kundra sought to create a Web 2.0-type government with a heavy dose of cloud

The first person ever appointed as the CIO of the US government, Vivek Kundra, is resigning after two and a half years on the job, the White House said Thursday.

There was no hint in the announcement made by Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, that Kundra's exit was prompted by a shift in the White House's view on IT.

Lew, who praised the CIO's work, said Kundra was leaving to take a fellowship at Harvard.

Kundra was appointed CIO a few months after President Barack Obama took office. He immediately outlined an agenda that emphasized cloud adoption, use of consumer technologies, and making data available to the public on new sites, such as data.gov. He was critical of big IT contracts that moved too slowly and were at risk of failing.

But there may be questions over why Kundra is leaving six months after releasing a 25-point plan that crystalized a lot of his ideas. One of the major components of the plan was the consolidation of more than 2,100 data centers to 800 by 2015.

Ray Bjorklund, a senior vice president at FedSources, a market intelligence firm, gave Kundra "a lot of plaudits for really stirring things up," and said his actions were "very positive overall for the government."

Bjorklund also said wondered "whether [Kundra] got a little burned out trying to fight the good fight."

A good third of the items in his 25-point plan were due to be completed in the first six months, and they weren't, Bjorklund said. While there was progress, "I don't think anyone can declare success on any one of those right now," he said.

Kundra was the CTO of the District of Columbia prior to taking the job as federal CIO. It meant managing an $80 billion IT budget, working with CIOs of established agencies, some of which can operate semi-autonomously, as well as appearing before Congress.

The average CIO tenure, in the public and private sectors, is four years and four months, according to Gartner.

In picking a new CIO, Bjorklund said Obama will want a person who can think on the grand scale, while also recognizing the complexity of government. That may make a career federal CIO an appropriate candidate, he said.

Lew said Kundra "brought with him the promise of good ideas and a hard-charging style focused on getting things done, necessary qualities to tackle the difficult issues facing federal IT - an aging infrastructure with rising operating costs, too many major projects failing to deliver, and increasing vulnerability to outside threats. Two and a half years after joining the administration, Vivek has delivered on that promise."

Lew said Kundra will move to Harvard in mid-August to serve as a joint fellow at the Kennedy School and at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "We are planning for a smooth transition," said Lew.

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