by Meridith Levinson

Job 1 for Vivek Kundra, New Federal CIO: Balance Openness with Security

Mar 06, 20093 mins

Vivek Kundra, whom President Barack Obama appointed the country's first-ever Federal CIO on March 5, has a huge and daunting task ahead of him: to make the government more transparent and interoperable, while also safeguarding it from a growing number of cyber-threats.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged to make the federal government more open, transparent and accountable to American citizens. After assuming office on January 19, 2009, he immediately took steps to act on his promise, which included issuing new, more open guidelines for the Freedom of Information Act, and more recently, ordering an overhaul of the federal government’s contracting system.

Yesterday marked another significant move in President Obama’s effort to give citizens greater transparency into government: He appointed the country’s first ever federal government CIO, Vivek Kundra, who is tasked with using technology “to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations,” according to a White House statement. In addition, the new federal government CIO is responsible for overseeing all federal IT spending and for establishing a secure IT architecture that will facilitate information sharing and interoperability among systems.

Kundra has a monumental task ahead of him, says Stan Sloane, president and CEO of SRA International, a Fairfax, Va.-based government contractor.

“Trying to provide any kind of over-arching architecture for the federal information technology space, trying to integrate it, make it more efficient, more transparent and more cost-effective across [hundreds of] disparate agencies that in some cases still operate in stove pipes is just a tough job,” says Sloane. “Doing that in an environment where you have huge deficits, economic issues and a lot of budget pressure is going to take someone with very clear vision and a lot of intestinal fortitude.”

Sloane adds that Kundra will have to strike a balance between the President’s drive for openness and transparency and the need for security. Cyber-threats against the country and the government are growing exponentially, he says, and the desire to connect agencies and make government open, transparent and interoperable makes it easier for hackers to carry out their attacks.

Needless to say, Kundra’s challenges will be many. “They will not be met easily or in a short span of time,” to coin a phrase from his boss’s inaugural speech.

Will the new federal CIO be able to surmount them? The buzz in the Beltway appears to be, Yes he can!

Sloan says Kundra is perceived as having the right background for the job and a good track record in the public sector. Kundra was most recently Washington, D.C.’s CTO, and he previously served as Virginia’s assistant secretary of commerce and technology. He has also worked in the private sector. Kundra has completed identity management and network security projects that Sloane says will serve him well in his new job.

“He’s highly regarded in the state and has done well in the D.C. job,” adds the CEO of Kundra. “He’s proven himself to be capable of increasingly larger challenges.”