When Vivek Kundra spoke about the new federal apps program at the AMES Research Center on September 16th, he unintentionally said a few things we all know, no matter our political persuasion. Kundra's statements matter because he is the Obama's administration's CIO or technology czar.
1. Government procurement processes are inefficient. Kundra's anecdote about the costs about what government department had to do to start a blog is hilarious and makes the Pentagon's famed purchases of expensive hammers and toilet seats seem like bargains.
2. The federal government is an unwieldy bureaucracy, but it is also a giant collection of independent agencies with different needs and different funding. For instance, it has been reported that FBI agents lack easy access to the Internet for security reasons.
3. Federal officials tasked with oversight sometimes seem stuck in the mud, and other times too eager to embrace untested technologies because of unrealistic expectations.
Kundra put all these shortcomings of the federal government on display during his press conference on using Cloud Apps to reduce federal efficiencies. You can see for yourself what Kundra had to say on YouTube at http://bit.ly/lttNp. Posting the press conference on YouTube is proof that the government is gradually starting to get Social Media, but it is not proof that it is ready to be a technology leader.
Of course, the goals of the federal initiative are laudable. Technology companies have been leaders in consolidation and virtualization efforts to achieve efficiencies. Many have found these projects difficult to execute because of the need to identify the function of each and every server and to reduce the number of software applications running on these servers.
The federal government's task is infinitely harder in both these respects. Imagine the background check needed to qualify a data center expert to find comatose servers at the NSA or the CIA. Imagine how many proprietary apps they must have. And ask whether these agencies or those tasked with holding private information should participate in a federal public cloud.
I applaud Kundra's enthusiasm in identifying waste and fraud in federal computing initiatives but wonder whether it is naive to expect enough agencies to participate in a cloud to make the effort worthwhile.
Tweets on the issue tended to focus on Kundra's seeming obliviousness to the role of data centers in the clouds. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that issue; I'm concerned about how the federal government will finance, locate, operate, manage, and power the data centers it will need should this cloud initiative succeed.