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The Nation’s C.I.O.: Government Needs a Dashboard

It is sadly too easy to find examples of federal technology projects gone awry. To Vivek Kundra, the nation’s new chief information officer, one seems to stick in his craw: An effort to build a handheld computer for examiners conducting the 2010 census wa
It is sadly too easy to find examples of federal technology projects gone awry. To Vivek Kundra, the nation’s new chief information officer, one seems to stick in his craw: An effort to build a handheld computer for examiners conducting the 2010 census was abandoned last year, wasting $600 million. Mr. Kundra, who when I met him earlier this month was juggling both a BlackBerry and an iPhone, is shocked that the government could not simply find a way to use an existing smartphone or similar device. Mr. Kundra’s job is to manage what will be $76 billion in spending to maintain 10,000 government systems as well as 800 active projects to build major new systems (those costing $50 million or more). I asked him how he could possibly keep tabs on all this to prevent the next $600 million albatross. He had a one-word answer: Dashboards. By the end of June, Mr. Kundra hopes to start yet another federal Web site that will give officials and the public a window into all of the active government technology projects. For each project, it will show the purpose, schedule and budget. It will show the name and photo of the federal official responsible and the names of which contractors are working on the project, a fact that Mr. Kundra says oddly has not been made public before. Most important, it will keep track of what Mr. Kundra believes are leading indicators that a project is going awry. One example is the number of “change order” modifications to the specifications given to the government contractor. The Census Bureau made 400 change orders on its handheld project.
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