Thursday, February 5, 2009
I'm Back, So Is Kundra
News of my disappearance has been greatly exaggerated!
Those of you who had written me off should have known better. In fact, I was simply hibernating until my prediction about Vivek Kundra came true, well, almost. Today has WFED radio in DC and NextGov (a blogging stomping ground of mine) reporting that Kundra will take not the greatly diminished federal CTO slot, but the old Karen Evans position in the Office of Management and Budget, administrator for e-government and information technology.
This is good news. The CTO seems to have been relegated to a more ceremonial, bully pulpit sort of job and Kundra would be wasted there. He's much more a pragmatic, practical, let's-get-it-done sort of guy. Just ask people in his Washington, DC, CTO office for an idea of how he will handle the OMB post, if the news is true. I draw upon my own firsthand experience of him in November at the national Academy of Public Administration annual conference.
Kundra was a surprise speaker on our panel about Web 2.0 in government. I can't recall the verbatim exchanges during the workshop, but I do recall the gist of what happened next. After he quickly recapped all the instances in which he had capitalized on 2.0 tools in DC, a county government employee asked a question. It seemed that his council members were pressing to have all the checks written by his department posted online so citizens could see exactly who the government was paying and for what. The questioner wanted the workshop attendees' opinions of that idea since he found it disturbing and impractical, essentially because people would have no context for viewing the checks and would likely misconstrue some of the spending as a result.
Kundra gently, politely and firmly said, in essence, so what? Do it anyway. His clear preference is, as is President Obama's, for more transparency than less, more use of 2.0 tools than less, more reuse of existing and ubiquitous applications (e.g. Google docs) than fewer, less development of complicated, large new systems and more simple, elegant innovation via participation (e.g. Apps for Democracy).
So again I say: Prepare for pre-solicitation conferences on YouTube and other public video sites, basic office work apps in the cloud, exposure of many heretofore hidden processes to the public and lots of "Why not?" queries to the naysayers. This administration has a much higher opinion of citizens' intelligence and right to know and understand the workings of government than any that came before. This public has a much lower tolerance for being kept in the dark because government is just too complicated to understand than any public of yore. And we're all way too economically pressed and angry and frightened to put up any longer with not knowing how our taxes are being spent.
No more enterprise architectures so complicated and Byzantine for even their intended users to understand. No more Frankenstein's monster Lines of Business, no more endlessly caveated performance accountability reports. Patience is short, time is short. This is the fierce urgency of now. If we have more than one of it, shut down the least effective ones or consolidate them into the most. If it isn't vital, stop doing it. If government can't do it as well as the private sector, have the private sector take the government employees and do it better. If it can't be used across all or most agencies, don't buy it, create it, improve it, or even propose it.
I am certain that Vivek Kundra paid his taxes and lives a life not unlike most of the rest of us. I doubt he has accepted a car, a driver or fees from anyone likely to be benefiting from his posts. So I am reasonably sure he will be taking the OMB job, and thank goodness.