The blogosphere is teaming up to get to the bottom of a mystery stirred up by respected technology pundit John C. Dvorak. Dvorak raises a lot of serious and as of yet unanswered questions about the Obama Administration’s appointment for US CIO Vivek Kundra.
I was very much against the creation of the CTO post when it was first posited during the campaigns, and the CIO post doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose, other than to have created an $18 MM website that seems to have fallen short of expectations.
Om Malik has run interference for CIO Kundra, contacting the Whitehouse for comment.
“I recently chatted with Kundra about cloud computing,” said Malik. “I reached out to the White House and a spokesperson dismissed the article as “a gross smear” on Kundra and called it “highly inaccurate.” The spokesperson said that Kundra has excelled at his job as the U.S. CIO.”
So, in essence, a complete non-answer.
Gautham Nagesh at NextGov completely dismissed all of Dvorak’s research as completely “erroneous,” but is only able to quibble with a detail of an allegation made by Dvorak regarding the type of degree Kundra received from the University of Maryland.
So what exactly is Dvorak alleging that Kundra lied about?
Bio sections containing Kundra’s professional history list him as CEO of a multi-million dollar company named Creostar. Dvorak sets it up, questioning his professional history:
“The most ridiculous is his assertion that he was formerly a CEO of Creostar. While records for this company are hard to come by a small Dun & Bradstreet service did turn up the following information: there was indeed a Creostar in Arlington, VA. It was founded in 2004 with the contact being Vivek Kundra. The last record for the company (online) showed sales of $67,000 with one employee – apparently Kundra, the CEO.”
It turns out that the company was just a play on the name of the company he’d been laid off from post acquisition – Exostar.
Dvorak looks deeper, questioning his proclaimed educational history:
“Most revealing is a bio of Kundra that was redacted from the Washington, DC municipal site. Luckily it was archived by the web sweeper Archive.org. In that bio Kundra added even more icing to his University of Maryland career saying he “served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland, teaching classes on emerging and disruptive technologies.”
Dvorak claims that several calls to the university confirmed that there was never any teacher by the name of Kundra.
Looking further into his education history, Dvorak says:
He finishes with “He received his master’s in information technology and his bachelor’s in psychology and biology from the University of Maryland.” The biology bachelor’s comes and goes from his bio, but the University has no record of his biology degree either.
… though Gautham Nagesh at NextGov tries to refute this claim by saying: “That’s somewhat correct, since the University of Maryland, College Park does not offer any such degree. However, after a few phone calls I was able to verify that Kundra did receive a Master’s degree in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland University College in 2001.”
That doesn’t sound much like a biology degree to me, so as a refutation, it sounds a little flat – and it doesn’t explain why Kundra often comes off looking a bit like a neophyte in interviews and media appearances.
“During one of his testimonies before a Congressional committee he even talked about the future being something like the Star Trek holodeck,” said Dvorak. “His clichés and commentary was that of a 18 year-old blogger who just got their first Macintosh.”
The Media Interviews of CIO Kundra Don’t Make Him Look Much Better…
If you read the interview Malik conducted with Kundra (linked from the response to Dvorak he posted today), or more specifically read between the lines, the post is pretty short on substance from the CIO.
“While our conversation was wide-ranging, in the end we ended up focusing primarily on his belief that cloud computing can help the government be smarter and more efficient,” wrote Malik.
In fact, the whole writeup of the interview contained only a single quote from Kundra: “What we have to ask is even a deeper question, which is does the U.S. government need to own all these data centers or is there a new computing model that we could leverage?”
This isn’t a great question to use as a starting point in today’s day and age… particularly if you’re supposedly the best and brightest guy in the country that the President could put at his disposal. The starting point question should be something more to the tune of: “there are better solutions than the government owning datacenters… should it be cloud computing, more traditional architecture, or a co-located solution where infrastructure costs are shared?”
That’s the question that immediately springs to mind, in light of the government’s expenditure of half a billion a year just to keep the lights on at the server farms – and I haven’t worked directly in IT for close over a decade. Given the article Om wrote about his interview with Kundra would want to select the quote that made the CIO look the best, I shouldn’t be able to pose a question with only a minute’s thought that immediately out-classes it.
What Does This Mean?
I’m not sure to what end Dvorak pushed this investigation – it sounded like it was merely for the purposes of satisfying his own curiosity how an unknown and seemingly unqualified individual achieved the office of the highest information officer in the land.
I wouldn’t say that I personally have an axe to grind, but I’ve been suspicious of President Obama’s affinity for technology since early on in the election process. I’ve always carried and advanced the feeling I’ve had that he’s merely co-opting buzzwords and culture from the tech and web industry so that he could win the hearts and mind of the tech media and blogosphere.
In other words, pandering.
“Wow, alert the media,” you say. “A politician pandering? Say it isn’t so.”
I’d say that it’s one thing when a politician panders during an election, but when it becomes a mode of operation during the actual administration is when the harm becomes real. As it’s been noted many places, the Recovery government website cost around $18 MM to build. For something that’s essentially a Crunchbase and Craigslist for governmental activity, the price tag is a little steep.
Beyond that, much of what I predicted would come of President Obama’s technology initiatives are coming to fruition.
Back in August of 2008, I predicted that the technology initiatives in Obama’s proposals would become expensive boondoggles that accomplished very little (other than more unnecessary governmental intervention and spending). Let’s check down the list of recent federal tech initiatives:
- The FTC regulating and restricting almost all speech on the Web.
- Recovery.gov was found to cost $18 million (a site to showcase governmental fiscal transparency), but what that purchases is nowhere to be found.
- A floundering plan for national cyber-security (ask Twitter, a company recognized by the State Department as internationally vital to free expression, how that’s working out for them right now).
- A national broadband stimulus package that most pundits agree has no roadmap or guideposts for success other than the same industry players that have corrupted the Universal Service Fund for decades.
- Christine Varney’s quixotic quest to end Google.
Sometimes It Sucks to be Right All the Time
I’ve been voicing my suspicions on this very loudly and from large platforms within the technology blogosphere for more than a year, and nearly every post on the topic has anywhere between 16-50 comments from others defending the Obama administration (or at the time, campaign) based on nothing but a hpe, wing and a prayer – as opposed to a proven track record of competency with technology.
My suspicions, often erroneously defined as partisanship, don’t come from my conservative beliefs in as much as I want the Obama Administration to fail in this as much as I would prefer a smaller government to a larger one.
Government always begets bigger government because a bigger government means more power. This has little to do with party lines and more to do with the corrupt nature of big government and bureaucracy. In part of my three long manifestos as to why the idea of a national CTO is a bad one, I think it most succinctly explained my problems with most of what Obama Administration appointees have tried thus far:
So we’re starting out with a nebulous position, and we’re putting it in charge of interpreting the nations’ technology issues, and hoping that the government won’t abuse the advice to expand their own power and use it to drum up votes.
Do you think we’ll see the end of exploitation of Craigslist as a political punching bag anytime theirs a prostitution bust with a CTO? Do you think we’ll see an end to Attorney Generals using pedophilia online as a way to scare the public and major corporations into playing ball?
No, of course not, they’ll just have more advanced terminology to play with. Semantic web technology will be used to scare the electorate into outlawing the technology so we won’t have a Will Smith I, Robot situation on our hands. Better understanding of how trojans and worms are spread will only encourage congress to pass a law requiring mandatory keyloggers on every citizen’s computer.
If they get really altruistic and industrious, they might just get interested in protecting our privacy. Of course, to them that’ll mean that every blogger will be required to obtain a license to operate a webserver so they can regulate how data is collected – data handling procedures that will tell you how you treat personal data entered in comments, cookies left by your ads, and disclosure of your sources.
This is exactly the type of activity we’re seeing – moves that expand power, accomplish little, spend a lot, and increase the political careers of mid-level appointees.
Given the fact that all the defenses thus far of Vivek Kundra have been less than stellar and that Dvorak raises a lot of compelling points, I see his report as believable… particularly in context with the performance of the Obama Administration in technology thus far.