Jeffrey Zients, U.S. Chief Performance Officer and OMB’s Deputy Director for Management, and Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer, discuss progress made towards changing the way the Federal government uses IT to save money and deliver better service.
Fortune ran a great article on an interview Vivek Kundra, the first US CIO. Here are a few excepts from the article
What were the biggest opportunities?
They were in four areas.
First, we wanted to look at this $80 billion that we’re spending every year on IT — how do we make sure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on investments that don’t produce dividends for the American people?
Second was cracking down on inefficient infrastructure — billions of dollars on data centers.
Third, cybersecurity. We wanted to shift away from a paperwork reporting model to address a risk that was real, whether it’s nation states that are actively coming after our systems, or organized crime. You can’t confront that by writing reports.
And fourth, the most important opportunity was to tap into the ingenuity of the American people. For too long, Washington was designed with a view that Washington has a monopoly on the best thinking, and the reality is, it doesn’t. So we wanted to use technology to tap into the millions of Americans who want to create a more perfect union.
The IT dashboard was one of your high-profile initiatives. Does it now show the progress of all major federal IT projects?
Absolutely. You can see every major IT project and how we’re doing. Besides the picture of the person who’s responsible, I also decided to put up every company that had won those contracts. So all of a sudden, CEOs were coming to see me. A number of CEOs issued press releases around how all their projects are green. It created this incentive to perform.
Shining light alone is not sufficient, so I decided to go after projects that are not performing well. We were able to save $3 billion after terminating projects that were not working, or de-scoping them. We also halted $20 billion worth of financial systems last summer because these were projects we had spent billions on with very little to show to taxpayers.
One of your major efforts was Data.gov, which makes hundreds of thousands of government data sets available to the public in the hope that the private sector will create valuable ways to use all that data. Have the results been what you aimed for?
Absolutely. We launched it in May of 2009. It started with 47 data sets. Today there are over 390,000 data sets on Data.gov on every aspect of government operations from health care to education to what’s happening across state and local governments. There are 19 countries that have replicated Data.gov. Over 29 states have replicated the Data.gov platform, and a dozen cities across the country, from New York City to San Francisco, have launched these platforms.
In my view this is going to be a transformational platform. We’re now putting up money for competitions for developers and the average American to come in and create applications that the government couldn’t even imagine. When we initially launched this, somebody developed an app called Flyontime.us that allows you to see average delays of flights and people tweeting wait times at airports, so you can make an intelligent decision. Since then, search engines like Bing have used data that’s come out of Medicare and Medicaid that allows you to see how hospitals are rated by patients and outcomes from those hospitals. If you type the name of a hospital, right in your search results you can see that. An iPhone app allows an expectant mother, before she buys a crib, to scan that product and see whether it’s been recalled. It’s shifting power to third parties and recognizing that the government doesn’t have to build everything. It can create a platform very much like what the U.S. military did with GPS satellites that gave birth to an entire GPS industry, or what the National Institutes of Health did with the Human Genome Project that gave birth to personalized medicine.
Another IT tool, business analytics, helps companies spot improper payments, among other things. The Office of Management and Budget estimates the government lost $98 billion to improper payments in 2009, which sounds like a huge opportunity. Is it?
It is. On the Recovery Act [the stimulus bill], we worked with a company called Palantir, which is in business analytics. To prevent fraud, we were able to slice and dice and cube all this data to make sure that entities that were winning these contracts were appropriate. The ability to investigate and go through massive volumes of data allowed us to prevent it.
Now we’re taking that practice and applying it to Medicare, Medicaid, and other grant programs. Over half a trillion dollars in grants go to state and local governments and then to private sector companies, and the fraud, coupled with the error rate, is huge. That is a huge opportunity.
Patrick Thibodeau has an interesting piece in Computerworld Top general says Defense Department IT in ‘Stone Age’ where he summarizes Hoss’ comments at FOSE.
Cartwright cited problems with proprietary systems that aren’t connected to anything else and are unable to quickly adapt to changing needs. “We have huge numbers of data links that move data between proprietary platforms — one point to another point,” he said.
Modifying hardware “takes forever,” and even modifying software can take an enormous amount time, the general said. “If you want to open up the operational flight software in an airplane, think something along the lines of five years and at least $300 million just to open it up and close it, independent of what you want to try to do to improve it,” Cartwright said. “We’ve got to find ways to do that better and more efficiently inside the Department of Defense for sure.”
He also highlighted Vivek Kundra’s concerns
“The same IT contractors keep getting government business not because they are necessarily providing the best technology, but because they understand the procurement system. He described it as almost an “IT cartel” within federal IT.”
The DoD “is unable to keep pace with the rate of IT innovation in the commercial marketplace,” according to the House committee report. “By way of example, the private sector is able to deliver capabilities and incrementally improve on those initial deliveries on a 12-to-18-month cycle; defense IT systems typically take 48-60 months to deliver.”
Amber Corrin authored a similar summary for FCW and added from Cartwright’s remarks:
Faster acquisition methods are needed to counter an improvised explosive device threat that tends to evolve on a 30-day cycle or a seven-year process for replacing the Humvee, he said. He praised the incremental approach to acquisition used for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, pointing to that program as a model for development and deployment of military systems. He said that the first instantiation of the Predator has had three iterations, each integrating new technologies.
Cartwright said that the cyber domain is promising for the U.S., but that it is critical to get it right early. “The Cyber Command and the military cyber components are part of a new structure integrated across many disciplines,” he said. “But we can’t isolate cyberspace the way space was [when it was established as an operational domain]. This is too important for our nation.” He also stressed the importance of the new DoD Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace, noting that it serves as a basic framework from which the department – and broader government – can use and build on. “The cyber strategy is an iterative framework to take us forward in cyber…it’s going to evolve, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
The DoD and Federal Government are losing two great IT leaders with Gen Cartwright and Vivek Kundra moving on. Hopefully new leaders emerge to advance and expand their vision to overhaul IT Acquisition, integrating new innovative models.