Kundra’s Mission


It’s an understatement to say that us open government advocates have placed great hope on Vivek Kundra. We take President Obama’s chief information officer at his word when he says he wants to radically change the way the federal government communicates with citizens, and vice versa. “We’re going to be publishing government data and [operating on] a default assumption that information should be [available] to the people, not with the default assumption that information should not be in the public domain,” he said during a speech he gave last month in Washington.

On Thursday, Government Computer News published a fascinating article by Joab Jackson, GCN’s senior technology editor, that looks at two main themes that have emerged regarding Kundra’s approach. Jackson also looks back illustratively at Kundra’s brilliant tenure as chief technology officer for Washington, D.C., as a guide as how he will approach his new role with the feds.

Jackson writes that cloud computing is first on Kundra’s list, the idea of taking advantage of services already available on the internet. He envisions putting government images on Flickr, videos on YouTube and having government offices using Google Apps. Jackson points out that this is the exact approach Vivek took for the D.C. government, cutting the cost of buying new software and allowing District employees to interact with each other. No doubt challenges exist that would have to overcome, such as setting up private clouds for sensitive data and changing bureaucratic aversion from opening up and fear of losing control.

Kundra says he will follow through on Obama’s promise of opening up government data, calling it a “key agenda item that we’re going to be pushing in this administration.” Again, Jackson looks back at his time with D.C. government. Not only did Kundra put on the Web 240 data feeds from District government internal systems (everything from bus and subway train schedules to crime statistics), he set up a contest to have developers design applications from government data. Apps for Democracy motivated volunteers to build 47 new apps for the Web and hand-held devices. Kundra also plans to build Data.gov, which he promises will be the go-to site for government data feeds.

Not only does Kundra promise to open up the data, he wants to make it much easier to use by increasing the power of government servers and making sure it’s accessible in formats that are nonproprietary and don’t require a computer science degree to use and understand.

This is getting really exciting.