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Kundra to depart, leaving behind IT reform plan

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Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s first chief information officer, will step down from his post later this summer, the White House announced last week, raising questions about whether his signature “cloud-first” policy and information technology reform effort will continue at the same rapid pace.

Kundra, who took office in early 2009, quickly put his stamp on the office of CIO with an aggressive effort to fix troubled programs and push the government toward cloud — or Web-based — computing. During his short time in office, he has rolled out plans to close about 800 data centers in less than five years and to ensure federal IT programs are executed in smaller, more manageable chunks.

Now Kundra is headed to Harvard University, where he will hold a joint fellowship at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

He plans to conduct independent research as well as work with the two centers on cloud computing, open government and digital media research, according to a Harvard press release.

In a statement Thursday, Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, vowed to continue Kundra’s efforts to cut wasteful spending and move the government to the cloud.

“We are planning for a smooth transition, continuing these remarkable gains in changing the way the Federal government manages IT,” Lew said.

The departure of Kundra draws some comparisons with the departure of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has been just as closely linked with his initiatives. In Gates’s case, he has cut major weapons systems while calling on contractors to be more efficient and trim overhead costs.

David A. Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office, said Kundra’s departure could delay some of the government’s reform efforts.

A 25-point implementation plan for changes released last year and championed by Kundra set clear time lines, calling for specific milestones to be met within six months, 12 months and 18 months.

Kundra “pushed things out very aggressively,” Powner said, citing in particular the roll-out of the IT Dashboard, a Web site that details the government’s IT spending. “He was a big reason why certain things got done.”

Calling Kundra a “change agent,” Trey Hodgkins, vice president for national security and procurement policy at IT trade association TechAmerica, said his legacy is still not clear but that he expects the reform plan to stay on track.

Analysts said they expect Kundra’s successor to maintain the existing strategy, particularly in shifting government programs to the cloud.

“It’s a very ambitious plan to move the federal government to more cloud structures, and the next person to fill his role will continue that,” said Michael S. Lewis, director of equity research at Lazard Capital Markets. “The momentum has already started [and] it will be very difficult to change that momentum.”

But Powner stressed the importance of quickly installing a replacement, noting that the government has had good plans in the past that haven’t fully come to fruition.

“Having a leader to jump in and continue pushing forward will be very essential,” he said.

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