Vivek Kundra's maiden-voyage speech: content 8, timing 2

The FBI's been pretty emphatic so far that Vivek Kundra's not the target of the investigation that resulted in yesterday's raids on his old offices in DC, though a person can't blame the White House for putting the guy on administrative leave anyway until the details are clear. (The guy the FBI nabbed is, after all, acting CSO for the district.) In all the hubbub, however, the press has mainly passed over Kundra's speech on Thursday to FOSE, in which he laid out his ideas for shaping up the tech aspects of the ship of state. The audacity of the free market, anyone?

Kundra's speech (transcribed in its entirety at Government Computer News) made the case for government-led innovation, when it's done right -- DARPA and the NSF with the early Internet, for instance, and the National Institutes of Health with the Human Genome Project -- while emphasizing the need to provide public access to the data, bring the public into policy discussions, and lower the cost of government.

Part of the lowering process, he says, will involve looking at tech that's available free in the private sector ("Why should the federal government continue to build infrastructure when it's available for free in some cases?") and speeding up the procurement process, which often takes so long that by the time purchase and usage is approved, the tech is outmoded.

All this, of course, will require a lot of rewiring -- not of federal facilities, but of federal-worker thought processes.

Kundra acknowledged that this is a nontrivial task considering that he's got 4 million employees and over 10,000 IT systems to contend with. "What I intend to do," he said, "is...leverage the federal employees who have dedicated their life's work to moving forward, to really challenging the status quo and not be stuck in bureaucratic quicksand by not tapping into the talent that's there within the federal government. Because I can tell you, having spent some time within the federal agencies, I've been amazed that some of the smartest people I've ever met in my life are federal government employees."

Yeah, but that "smart" thing can get a manager in trouble when the people he supervises aren't also ethical. Kundra's CTO duties in DC, to which he was appointed in 2007, involved the supervision of 86 agencies and around 50 managers. One of those managers, Yusuf Acar, is the government insider accused of bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, and conflict of interest. He was hired in 2004 and has been running his scam with co-conspirator and former city employee Sushil Bansal for over a year.

Meanwhile, the FBI methodically lays out its case concerning the "partnership" between corrupt current and former city workers that cost DC millions. The affidavit, as reproduced by the Washington Post (PDF available here), indicates that we can expect more indictments of low-level employees who facilitated the scam. Kundra doesn't seem to be represented in the FBI's paperwork, but he's apt to face a round of highly unpleasant questions about his ability to manage a system that's not just slow and obscure but, occasionally, dishonest.

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