D.C. Tech Chief Tapped for White House Slot

Vivek Kundra, an adviser on President Obama's transition team, is set to be named his chief information officer.
Vivek Kundra, an adviser on President Obama's transition team, is set to be named his chief information officer. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009; 10:18 AM

President Obama today announced that Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer for the District, will be the federal chief information officer.

It's a job that did not exist in previous administrations; Obama, who leveraged social networks, text messages and other Internet tools on the campaign trail, promised to create a technology czar with the aim of helping the government operate more efficiently.

The newly created federal position will operate under the auspices of the White House. Kundra, 34, is expected to oversee how government agencies purchase and use information technology and will be in charge of all federal technology spending. He also will be responsible for making sure agencies' networks and systems work together and share information while maintaining security and privacy standards.

Obama also plans to appoint a chief technology officer who will work closely with Kundra, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcements are not yet official. The exact job description for that position has not yet been announced, but the chief technology officer might focus more on overall technology policy while the chief information officer will handle day-to-day spending and operations within agency projects.

"Vivek Kundra will bring a depth of experience in the technology arena and a commitment to lowering the cost of government operations to this position," Obama said in a statement announcing the appointment. "I have directed him to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations. As Chief Information Officer, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open, and efficient way possible."

The information and technology officer positions have been closely watched by the technology communities in both Washington and Silicon Valley. Kundra, who was a technology adviser on Obama's transition team, was considered to be a contender for the job shortly after Obama said it would be created. As the District's chief technology officer, Kundra oversaw technology projects and budgets for 86 agencies. He previously served as Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's assistant secretary of commerce and trade, and later as assistant secretary of technology. His experience in those public sector roles, as well as his stint running technology start-ups, make him well suited for the federal position, his supporters say.

Kundra will have budgetary authority to launch entirely new systems within government departments, or kill existing multimillion-dollar IT projects. His decisions could have a large impact on government contractors, such as SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton, that have come to provide the bulk of IT services to agencies.

He also will be charged with using technology to lower the cost of government operations and making government data more accessible to citizens, two things he championed as the District's chief technology officer. In that role, he got attention for letting independent developers create online applications using government information, for example, posting training videos on YouTube and creating an internal "wiki" site called DCpedia, for employees.

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