The Obama Administration Fills Two Key Communications-Related Posts


The Obama administration made two important appointments this week. The first-ever federal CIO will play a vital role as Obama and crew seek to transition the radical use of technology during the campaign into savvy streamlining of how the government operates. The other new administrator-the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission-will be on the spot immediately on a number of important policy issues.


The Federal CIO is Vivek Kundra, who had been the CTO of Washington, D.C. and, before that, Virginia's assistant secretary of commerce and technology. This piece excerpts the precise job description from the White House. The tasks include strategic planning of investments and oversight of spending. Kundra also is charged with fostering interoperability, information sharing, security and privacy.


That's all generic enough to border on boilerplate. An executive quoted in the CIO.com piece discusses the diffuse and stovepiped nature of federal departments. Besides cutting costs and safeguarding security, Kundra will grapple with such issues as the implementation of IPv6 and the varying degree of enthusiasm federal workers have toward telecommuting. It also seems likely that this will be something of a high-profile position, since the administration wants to use technology to achieve its goals -- and to be perceived as technically savvy.


There are a number ways that IT security is sliced, according to the Technology Association of America. The group, which was formed by the merger of the Information Technology Association of American and the American Electronics Association, found that respondents had three views on the most important task of a federal CIO. One group said the key is compliance with Office of Management and Budget pronouncements. A second contingent said it is protecting current assets and a third group perceives it as developing strategic responses to threats. The piece highlighting the findings, which ran in The National Journal Online, also offers eight non-security IT goals on which the new administration should focus.


There was no drama in the announcement that Julius Genachowski, a longtime FOB (Friend of Barack), will chair the FCC. ZDNet says that a main task will be to work with other agencies-such as the Commerce Department and the Department of the Interior-to bring broadband to low-cost and rural areas. The writer says that the appointment shows "an enhanced status for the FCC and telecom/tech policy in the White House" due to his coziness with President Obama. Genachowski, the writer says, will not be as enamored of the private sector as his predecessor, Kevin Martin. CNET says that he likely will back Net Neutrality and notes that he served in the FCC during the Clinton years under Reed Hundt and worked for Senator Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.). He also has extensive private sector experience.


It is interesting to juxtapose the two positions. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934, so it has had somebody running the show for 75 years. Many of those bosses got a lot of press. Of course, the government has been using information technology and telecommunications tools for at least that long -- but to this point hasn't rated a high-profile top dog. That time has come, however.