March 04, 2010, 7:10 PM — In describing ways that the Obama administration hopes to use IT to better serve the U.S. people, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra described some disturbing inefficiencies in the government today.
It takes the Veteran's Administration 160 days to process benefits for veterans, he said. "That's because the Veteran's Administration is processing paperwork by passing manila folders from one desk to another," Kundra said. Sometimes that involves sending a folder via UPS to another office.
Kundra spoke on Thursday at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs in Seattle, describing problems in the government's IT infrastructure and ways it plans to improve its processes to better serve citizens.
Another example of an outdated and inefficient agency is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which takes three years to process a patent, he said. "One reason is because the U.S. PTO receives these applications online, prints them out, and then someone manually rekeys the information into an antiquated system," he said.
When Kundra came to the job from his previous position as CIO for the District of Columbia, he discovered that the rule for giving government employees BlackBerry devices was based on the number of years they had worked in the government. "That's a perverse incentive," he noted. Instead, it would be more appropriate to dole out the phones based on the worker's role in the government and their need to access information, he said.
The State Department has spent US$133 million in the past six years on reports about the security of its systems. "They are done every three years or so and then filed away in secure rooms. Frankly, the paperwork and reports are more secure than the very systems they are supposed to protect," he said.
The federal government's office of personnel management, which oversees human resources in the government, stores its many files in metal cabinets in a cave in Pennsylvania, he said.
"This is not how to run a modern government in the 20th century," he said.
The administration has decided to look to the private sector for cues on how to do a better job with its IT infrastructure, Kundra said. "The president has said the best ideas are not necessarily within the four walls of Washington," he said.