Too often, people are spending more energy preparing reports than on executing, he said.
As the United States' first CIO, Mr. Kundra is charged with the strategic direction of IT coordination across the entire federal U.S. government.
On his first day on the job, Mr. Kundra remembers being handed a stack of PDF documents covering the government's vast array of IT projects, some of which dated back to the early 1970s. It wasn't that many were millions of dollars over budget or months behind - they were billions of dollars over budget and decades behind schedule.
The U.S. government was making massive capital investments that didn't produce business results.
The Department of State, for example, has spent US$133 million on security documents for 150 major IT systems in the past six years, he said. The documents comprise 95,000 pages and 50 feet of shelf space. They cost US$1,400 per page. Mr. Kundra joked that reports were filed away more securely than the very systems they were supposed to protect.
"The government has created a culture where process continues to trump outcomes," he said.
The U.S. government has focused on a three-step strategy to improve the process behind government IT projects:
1. Shine light.
"For too long, we've tried to sweep these problems under the rug," he said, but unless CIOs and project managers have candid conversations there will never be solutions.
Government must move away from "faceless accountability," he said. "Because everyone is responsible, no one is responsible."
The Obama administration is taking that directive figuratively as well as literally. It went so far as to put up pictures of every CIO responsible for an IT project along with the project status. "Very quickly, we started seeing change and people started focusing on those investments," he said.
Successful projects should get their share of the limelight, too, so best practices can be shared and simulated. Mr. Kundra called for the creation of a community where our project managers can "practice" in the same way a pilot might go through flight simulation.
It starts from the top. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, is committed to making sure IT investments are producing dividends promised at the beginning. Mr. Kundra even posted a picture of the president monitoring the government's IT project dashboard.
2. Make tough decisions.
After identifying where problem projects are, the government has to be ruthless in deciding which projects to pursue, Mr. Kundra says. It "should not continue to throw good money after bad money." Instead, it must terminate projects that won't deliver dividends and focus on turning around troubled projects.
"People are too afraid of the color red. It's okay -- red is actually a nice color," he said. But project managers and CIOs must embrace and take on challenges --not pretend there aren't issues.
"The goal is not to be green, the goal is to drive outcomes."
3. Reform federal IT.
The U.S. government must rethink how it manages IT projects. It will look at structural challenges for how it funds and forecasts -- making sure project outcomes are customer-facing and have shorter deliverables.
Mr. Kundra said he'd like to introduce the threat of Darwinian pressure seen in the commercial sectors -- where IT companies are just one click away from extinction.
No matter what sector you're in, the pressure's on -- and the United States' first CIO is no exception. "If we can manage this $80billion portfolio effectively, we can solve a lot of problems."