Farewell Kundra, We Hardly Knew Ya
By Tony Kontzer
The announcement last week that Vivek Kundra would leave his post as the nation's first CIO this August to accept a fellowship at Harvard has spurred gratuitous analysis of his all-too-brief tenure. He's being credited by everyone from Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark for bringing a new level of IT efficiency to the federal government and saving the country $3 billion.
But Kundra also has his critics. They argue that his main impact was as a communicator and image reformer who worked to repair the reputation of federal IT, but who didn't spend enough time in the trenches working with federal agencies to understand their particular IT challenges.
I can't argue with his supporters or detractors--I don't know Kundra, and have only surface knowledge of the IT issues facing federal agency CIOs. But I believe I have enough of a perspective to reach one conclusion: Kundra is leaving his post way too early.
It's certainly a safe bet to say that President Barack Obama had a longer stint in mind when he appointed Kundra, and I'm guessing he's probably pretty frustrated at having to find another CIO to lead the nation so soon. It's also safe to say that most of the folks who answered to Kundra are probably feeling a bit deserted at this point--they've had hardly any time to get to know the man and comprehend his big-picture objectives, and now they'll have to start the process all over again.
I may be a bit old-fashioned, but when the President asks you to lead the nation's IT into the 21st century, you don't leave for greener pastures two-and-a-half-years later. Instead, you remind yourself that those greener pastures aren't going anywhere, that plum jobs will await you whenever you decide to make a move, but that you've got a bigger job to do first.
And Kundra came in with appropriately big plans to slash all the wasteful IT spending that had become part of the federal government's DNA, transition federal agencies to cloud computing, and beef up the nation's cybersecurity. None of that is easy stuff that can be achieved in two-and-a-half years; collectively, it would require years of dedication and tenacity to bring an IT strategy to fruition on such a large scale.
Unfortunately, now it will all be inherited by a new CIO, one who may not have the same mindset as Kundra, and who might steer the nation's IT in a different direction. Several names have been floated--names like Veteran Affairs CIO Roger Baker, General Services Administration Associate Administrator Dave McClure, and Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires.
My guess is that whoever President Obama chooses to succeed Kundra will be a proven federal IT lifer, someone he can count on to stick around through his second term, should he be re-elected in 2012.
It's the least he can expect.