Over the last two days, the blogosphere has witnessed an interesting debate about whether Vivek Kundra’s resume is entirely accurate and sufficient for his current role as U.S. Federal CIO. It all started with a blog post by John Dvorak, where he casted doubts about Vivek’s academic achievements and his experience outside the public sector, followed by a post by Gauthan Nagesh on NextGov, shedding light on Vivek’s academic records and challenging Dvorak’s positions. It is quite intriguing to look at comments on either blog, as well as on many other blogs and online articles (just search for “Vivek Kundra qualifications” and you’ll find quite a lot).
Besides observing that politics are the same pretty much anywhere, with political appointees being regularly targeted by their opponents, the press and more recently by blogs (quite ironic in Vivek’s case, as he is a fervent believer in the power of Web 2.0), I am not really interested in whether these allegations are founded or not.
What I am more interested in is the fundamental question behind much of these discussions, i.e. is he qualified for the job at hand? In order to answer this question one has to looks at (1) the exact job description and (2) his achievements in related positions.
As far as (1), the job description in the White House’s announcement of Vivek’s appointment was:
The Federal Chief Information Officer directs the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending. The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government. The CIO will also work closely with the Chief Technology Officer to advance the President’s technology agenda
Words are important here. He is not responsible for the federal IT budget (agencies are), but for its oversight. He directs policies and planning in order to advance the President’s technology agenda. Obama’s agenda clearly is about change in a number of areas, including IT as an important enabler of change. So I guess one of the most important trait the President was looking for was the ability to be a change agent.
Here comes (2), what did he do in the past to show such a trait? Well, I would argue that his achievements in D.C. as a CTO got the attention of many, ranging from how he changed portfolio management to how he made procurement more transparent up until his venture into crowdsourcing applications. He also got a number of recognitions during his tenure in D.C.
Those who have been reading this blog for some time know that I like Vivek and wished him well when he went into some trouble shortly after his appointment. I do not think that allegations or even facts about his qualifications as a student or an entrepreneur can deny his nature of change agent.
Where I believe challenges are for him as well as for the whole administration, is in deciding how to prioritize change, and how to find the right blend between continuity and innovation.
The risk is that in between open data, cloud computing, government 2.0, support to major programs like national broadband and health IT, Obama’s IT team finds itself chewing too much too soon.
If there is one thing that needs to be sorted out now, is how the CIO and CTO role relate to each other. A few days ago I watched an interview that CTO Aneesh Chopra gave to CNET, and could not get a straight answer to this, although the interviewers asked him a direct question. It is quite possible that roles, responsibilities and priorities have already been sorted out. But then, could we please know?