CIO Council - Chief Information Officers Council - Beta

Vivek Kundra Testimony on Government 2.0: Advancing America Into The 21st Century And A Digital Future

April 28th, 2009

CIO Council

“Government 2.0: Advancing America into the 21st Century and a Digital Future”


April 28, 2009
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to testify on how the Federal Government can use information technology to change the way agencies achieve their missions as well as how information technology can enable agencies to spark innovation, interact with citizens more effectively, ensure transparency, and reduce energy costs.
Government 2.0
To begin, consider the three major revolutions that have fundamentally transformed society: the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution. In all cases, a fundamental principle holds: technology is pivotal in driving structural change.
In the Agricultural Revolution stable food production created an environment where a person could literally spend their entire life within a 25-mile radius of their birthplace. All the means of production and distribution with regards to commerce were limited to that 25-mile radius.
The Industrial Revolution brought about another era – enabling the rapid movement of goods, supplies, and people – which fundamentally changed the workings of the economy. The pace of commerce quickened – whether through ships, trains or planes, and the world became significantly smaller.
Today, the Information Economy is powered by the digital infrastructure upon which we depend. In the same way the Industrial Revolution made the physical world smaller, the Information Revolution has fundamentally transformed society. Not only is the world smaller and faster – information can be sent across the globe in a matter of seconds – but it is also connected in ways previously structurally impossible. Buyers and sellers, students and teachers, governments and their citizens, can find one another regardless of physical location, and new relationships and social networks can form spontaneously. Twenty first-century technology and telecommunications are flattening communications and markets and have contributed to a period of unprecedented innovation, making us more productive, connected citizens.
Just as society experienced these fundamental transformations in stages, so too has the Federal government, as it has entered the digital world:
  • Federal agencies began by placing information and content online, consistent with their mission. However, the use of that information and the underlying business processes were not changed – the online organization merely mirrored the physical organization. In essence, the Federal government “webified” itself.
  • In the second phase, the focus shifted to the automation of back-end processes and improvement of citizen access to services. However, much work remains. We have yet to fully turn these concepts into reality and are only at the beginning in terms of what is possible with modern technology.
  • The next phase – advancing America into the 21st century and realizing the promise of Government 2.0 – entails a fundamental shift in the interaction between the American people and their government. It will require making government “context-driven.”
Context-Driven Government
President Obama has made it clear that we must use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens.
Put simply, context-driven government means government information and services are provided to citizens when they need it – and where they need it – as they go about their digital, daily lives.
For example, a teacher checks email on her smartphone before heading out for the day. An alert flashes, reminding her it is Earth Day so she decides to walk to work rather than take her usual bus. She also receives a notice that it may rain by a site fed by NOAA weather information and picks up her umbrella before going out. Opening a digital map, she sees not only the shortest route to the office, but also a listing of all the coffee shops she will pass along the way. While in line at the café, she notices an NIH report on the health benefits of green tea, which she orders instead of her usual coffee. She pays her mortgage online while waiting for her tea – getting an updated bank balance while on the site — and then connects to her favorite social networking site to determine her evening’s plans. This takes place in minutes – on the walk to work – and has been a seamless experience, despite the fact she has traversed at least five organizations and dozens of digital destinations. To her, the information and services are simply available where needed and when needed.
Increasingly, social networking sites, online shopping portals, and commercial search engines are where the American people spend time online. Facebook alone currently has more than 200 million active users[1].
We must use context-driven government to bring the government to citizens so that information and services are available where and when citizens need it. Access to government services should be just another component in a seamless digital experience. Doing so not only provides better service to our citizens, but also allows the government to leverage existing services and platforms – and consequently reduces the cost of government operations. Where the private sector (or another government agency, whether at the federal, state or local level) has a solution in place, we should seek to partner and leverage rather than “re-invent the wheel” by unnecessarily spending more taxpayer dollars.
And while we are taking on these challenges, we always must be cognizant of the significant burden to protect the private information of the American people.  This focus, along with a commitment to ensuring privacy as investments are made in the widespread implementation of electronic health records, must be leveraged to set a high bar for the goal of protecting the personal information of all Americans.
Democratization of Data
As the President has stated, information maintained by the Federal government is a national asset[2] — and should therefore be made available, consistent with law and policy, to the public in a way that is easy to find and use while protecting the privacy of our citizens and access to sensitive data. Making the information and operations of government more open and accessible will drive accountability, performance, and engagement. And through currently available technology – search tools, online video, social networking – we now have the means to do so.
Democratizing government data will engage citizens and fundamentally change how government operates. The availability of raw, machine-readable data in a variety of open, standards-based formats involves the citizenry in new ways and empowers them to be “co-creators”, alongside the government, of new applications, new ideas, and new ways of doing business. By enabling the “mash up” of data feeds we can create value both for the government and for the country. Innovation can occur much faster and at a lower cost if we move to democratize our data.
Participatory Government
On March 26, 2009, the President hosted an online town hall, the first of its kind for any White House. And with almost 100,000 participants and more than three and a half million votes cast, it was an unprecedented experience that showed the potential  for public participation in this kind of accessible forum. We must and will continue to engage the American people through such platforms.
Structural change is never easy and will require a strong focus on IT governance, from capital planning and investment management to privacy and security as we move to Government 2.0.   An unprecedented amount of computing power is currently available at all levels of government – and we must enable the federal employee (whether an IT worker or otherwise) to share information across the enterprise. Much as we will democratize government-owned data to engage citizens as “co-creators”, so, too, must we break down information silos.
Through the use of social networking tools, increased transparency of government data, and a strong focus on collaboration – we can harness the power of innovation and creativity across the government and realize the promise of Government 2.0.
This concludes my statement. Thank you for your time today and I look forward to your questions.