Data.gov: The Vivek Kundra Opportunity

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Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Vivek Kundra in his job as the CTO of Washington, DC. Today he was appointed to the new position of CIO of the Federal Government. He’s a visionary — a leader in the field of eGovernment who understands that technology can be used to change the way government operates, can be used to save money, as a way to inform citizens — all for the sake of our democracy for its citizens. From my interactions with him it is clear he believes in three things:

Using Alternative Market Models to Reduce Cost

A great example of an alternative market model is Apps for Democracy, the project that he did with iStrategyLabs to get lots of ideas and applications developed for the District of Columbia for a pittance. While Kundra didn’t invent the contest model, he was the first person inside the government to use it, and it was a smart move. Not only does it reduce the cost of building early apps, it raises awareness and identifies talent. While I suspect the operations of the Government will not be supplanted by running a bunch of contests, I suspect we’ll see some significant cost savings through contest models and open source development.

Data driven decisions

Kundra’s into using markets to make data driven decisions. I took a tour of his DC OCTO office a few months ago and he showed me his “trading floor” of Government projects. Flat panel screens of DC OCTO projects, their cost, their milestones, the teams associated with them and a big score. Scores were associated with names as well as projects, helping Kundra make decisions about how likely a project was to succeed, and find inefficiencies. Each project was given a “buy”, “sell”, or “hold” rating which helped Kundra make decisions on whether or not to continue projects.

Operational Data is Public Data

Perhaps his most profound move is to recognize that there should be no difference between the data that government useS to make decisions and the data available to the public. Government obviously needs to protect some information– we all agree that, for instance, there shouldn’t be a feed of everybody’s social security numbers. But Kundra‚Äôs understanding that there is no sense in creating a “public data source” and an “operational data source” is revolutionary.

Another interesting thing about Kundra in his DC role is that unlike many government agencies, Kundra had developers working for him rather than contractors or outside firms. His research and development team in DC was led by Dmitry Kachaev, a man with real technical skill who worked full time for the DC government.

If Kundra can push all three of these philosophies inside of the government, we’re in for a lot of change. It isn’t exactly going to be easy. The federal government has a lot more inertia in it than the District of Columbia. But I suspect you can look for some strong shifts very soon. If I was a developer looking for a job, I’d be scouring USAJobs.gov for opportunities in Office of Management and Budget or perhaps a newly created Office of the Federal CIO. We’ll see where the legal home is of this new position. Some very interesting things are about to happen.