Barack Obama added a key piece to his ambitious tech strategy Wednesday, appointing Washington D.C. technology guru Vivek Kundra as his federal Chief Information Officer. Based in the White House, Kundra will work closely with Obama's yet-to-be-named government Chief Technology Officer, a potentially Cabinet-level role that has been described as the world's most powerful geek. "Vivek Kundra will bring a depth of experience in the technology arena and a commitment to lowering the cost of government operations," said Obama, in a brief statement. "As CIO, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open and efficient way possible." Kundra will direct policy and planning for federal IT investments, according to the White House. The CIO will also oversee federal tech spending, as well as ensuring information security and privacy across government. Kundra's appointment focuses attention on how Obama will actually deliver his tech plans. Speculation has arisen that the CIO will be Obama's IT "fixer," whereas the CTO will be more of a tech "visionary" forging links with the private sector to implement the latest technologies. The Blackberry-addicted president has a big technology agenda, which involves dragging U.S. government IT into the 21st century, as well as boosting the nation's tech sector. Obama wants to overhaul the U.S. health care system by allocating $10 billion a year over five years to build an electronic medical record system. Other planks of the new president's strategy include making government data easily accessible online, making the research and development tax credit permanent, and extending broadband access to all Americans.
Kundra certainly has a strong background in the complexities of government IT and was responsible for technology operations across 86 D.C. agencies. Seen as an expert in public safety, cyber security and IT portfolio management, the federal IT czar has experience in both the public and private sectors. Before becoming the D.C. CTO, Kundra worked as assistant secretary of commerce and technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first dual cabinet role in the state's history. The University of Maryland graduate has also served as vice president of marketing for identity management specialist Evincible Software and as CEO of Creostar, where he advised clients in government and industry on IT governance and strategy. During his time in Virginia, Kundra was credited with assembling the largest U.S. trade delegation ever to visit India --100 business leaders were involved -- which resulted in $99 million worth of investment for the state. Choosing the best people will prove key to the success of Obama's long-term strategy, and Kundra's name had already been touted for the CTO's role, along with that of Cisco Systems ( CSCO) tech chief Padmasree Warrior. Warrior, who was formerly Motorola ( MOT)'s CTO, was rumored to be the favorite to become "America's CTO," an appointment that must now seem increasingly likely. Somewhat surprisingly, Symantec ( SYMC)'s outgoing CEO John Thompson has not been linked with the role, despite his strong links with Obama and Capitol Hill. At this stage, however, there is relatively little information on what the CTO will actually do.
The White House attempted to shed at least some light on the role in a recent memo published in the Federal Register, explaining that the CTO, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Administrator of General Services will make recommendations for an "open government directive" within 120 days of the tech chief's appointment. The directive, which will lay the foundations for making information more readily available to the public, will be issued by the director of the OMB, according to Obama's note. U.S. tech firms are also keen to see how the CTO will help their businesses by boosting the country's Internet infrastructure. "I would like to see Obama's CTO focus their attention on increasing the upload capacity of broadband links," Ethan Oberman, CEO of cloud storage company Spider Oak told TheStreet.com. "That would be very helpful to companies like us because it would allow data uploads to occur with much greater speeds."