City of Brass

City of Brass


CIO Vivek Kundra – did Obama get scammed? (UPDATE: No.)

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

(NOTE – Om Malik spoke to Kundra personally and it is clear that Dvorak’s piece was badly sourced and flat-out wrong. scroll down to the updates)

This is pretty disturbing – John Dvorak has done some digging into the background of Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as Chief Information Officer of the United States, and found that he may have faked his master’s degree and professional experience. It should be noted that Kundra is in charge of $18 million dollars to launch the Recovery.gov website. As Dvorak argues,

But, to be honest about it, and despite the possible fraudulent bios and non-existent degrees, the kicker for me was that even if he was squeaky clean he has no business being the USA CIO controlling billions and billions of dollars in government contracts.

He hasn’t done anything to warrant this appointment. There are no great policy papers. There are no books. There is no invention. There is nothing but vague tech positions in city and state governments. How does this make him a “techno-whiz” as he was portrayed by the New York Times? It took him six years to get a simple undergrad degree in psychology! Was it just because he uses Facebook and likes Twitter?

So what have we got so far from this person? Well, for starters we are looking at the Recovery.org website that will cost the taxpayers around $18 million. This news was released recently. What websites costs $18 million? And that’s with no warrantee.

The incredibly popular Digg.com, one of the most advanced news gathering sites in the world was initially coded from scratch for between $1200-2500 according to one of its founders. Tools to develop fancy websites have improved drastically over the years and now it costs less for fancy sites, not more. So where is the $18 million going? I can assure you that people who pay attention bugged out their eyeballs at a website expense of $18 million.

This is a pretty serious embarassment if true. I hope it isn’t true but the evidence Dvorak has compiled is pretty startling. Government transparency, ethics, and fiscal prudence are all ideals to which President Obama has vowed to adhere by in his administration, so this needs to be addressed immediately. I am willing to forgive if Kundra managed to scam the Administration, but am not willing to tolerate a coverup or denial here. Either Kundra prove his qualifications or he resign, or be fired. NOW.

Read Dvorak’s full article for more details. It should be noted that the Tech community also seemed to have failed it’s duty here, with even industry leaders like Tim O’Reilly gushing with generic praise over Kundra in the media. Clearly there was a failure of due diligence by the Administration and the private sector. If one scam artist managed to get in the door, surely others did too.

UPDATE: The White House has reacted, calling Dvorak’s report “highly inaccurate” – after inquiry, technology journalist Om Malik got the following reply:

I reached out to the White House and a spokesperson dismissed the article as “a gross smear” on Kundra and called it “highly inaccurate.”

According to the spokesperson, the doubts might have arisen from the fact that Kundra went to University of Maryland’s University College instead of College Park. Those are two different colleges within the University of Maryland system. The spokesperson said that Kundra has excelled at his job as the US CIO.

Also, missing from Dvorak’s piece is the fact that Kundra was the Chief Technology Officer for the City of Washington, D.C. prior to appointment as US CIO. The link is to an article on the work he did in eliminating wasteful programs by using a “stock market analogy” to departmental initiatives. Om also interviewed Kundra about cloud computing a while back, so you can judge for yourself how experienced Kundra seems to be about technology issues.

UPDATE 2 – Om spoke to Kundra personally, and also spoke with people at the University of Maryland, and states that Dvorak is just plain wrong.

Dvorak is just flat out wrong – that was the gist of the conversation I just had with Kundra. He called back and said that it was clear that “someone was spinning partial truths.” He welcomed anyone to check with University of Maryland’s University College and said they will find that not only did he graduate from the University College, but also that he was adjunct faculty member. He was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland’s College Park location. That confusion is reflected on Kundra’s Wikipedia bio.. We checked with the UMUC and they told us that Kundra did indeed get graduate in 2001 with an MS in information Systems Management. When I asked Kundra about his start-up, Creostar, he said he never claimed it to be a billion dollar company. He started it before getting a gig with the commonwealth of Virginia.

At this point it clearly seems Kundra is vindicated and Dvorak needs to issue a retraction and apologize.

Tim O’Reilly weighs in on Twitter:

Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with Kundra knows he is qualified and doing a great job. Can’t say the same for Dvorak.

Ouch. I see that Dvorak has made some edits to his piece but seems to be holding his ground for now.

FINAL UPDATE: In response to this post, Beliefnet has received an official statement from Kenneth Baer, OMB spokesman:

“This is a total fabrication and gross distortion of Vivek Kundra’s record. Vivek received his Master’s degree from the University of Maryland-University College, worked in the private sector, and had a distinguished career as a public servant before joining the Obama Administration.”

Related – discussion of Recovery.gov’s $18 million price tag at Slashdot.



  • Your Name

    Really, is there no personal responsibility on the part of the so-called author of the article/blog. A smear campaign for the sake of getting a sensational buzz going?! Come on, lets focus on more important matters. This smells of going along the same investigative journalism involved in the issue of Obamas birth certificate!!!!!!!!

  • David

    Big websites like recovery.gov cost money to operate. You say that digg.com started on a shoestring, but c’mon … a GOVERNMENT website has to have (1) LOTS of bandwidth for the thousands of citizens who will access it concurrently, (2) heavy-duty security — firewalls, content filters, etc.; (3) must comply with federal regulations from Sarbanes-Oxley to public accessibility rules for people with disabilities; and (4) will probably occupy dozens if not hundreds of blade (rack-mounted) servers for reasonable access times. There will be authors, designers, project managers, administrators, SEO experts, etc. to keep it all running. There will be additional services on top of it all, such as indexed searching.
    Be reasonable. I don’t know if $18 million is the right number, but I would guess at LEAST $5M to start for something of this magnitude.

  • Kira

    Oh noes – somebody took more than the traditional four years to complete a degree. You mean he might have had to work and therefore go to school part time rather than have mommy & daddy pay for everything so he could whiz through without a care? Geesh, what a crime.

  • http://www.techpolicyreview.com Angela Chock

    Well, well, well…Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, is an alum. I have a M.S.I.T. degree in Software Engineering from UMUC, too.

  • Policy Wonk

    Kundra is NOT “in charge” of Recovery.gov. He is one of the people managing development of the site, but operational and managerial control was given to the IT procurement staff at the General Services Administration:
    http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090716_6972.php
    I know a some of the people working on Recovery.gov, and they are equal in pay grade and responsibility to Kundra.

  • Your Name

    Kira,
    You know that for a fact do you? Funny, I went to college with Vivek, I remember a lot of the drinking and etc but don’t recall him ever having a job during the nearly 6 years there. Oh well, I guess I must be wrong, you made your statement with such strong sarcasm that I just want to believe it!
    And lets be honest here folks, University College is EASILY as fine a University as College Park. Its like comparing Cal-Berkley and Cal-Irvine…totally the same school there.

  • joeschmoe

    Interesting that this Sunday on Leo Laporte’s TWiT podcast, when discussing Kundra and the lame Holodeck comments that Kundra made to the US Congress, John Dvorak and Leo pressed Om Malik, supposed Best Friend Forever of Vivek Kundra for ratification that Om thought highly of Kundra’s technical qualifications, that all Om would say was that he does not judge people and that he actually never met Kundra.
    Moreover, Malik admitted that he really only knew as much about Kundra’s educational background as was dictated to Malik by an anonymous Whitehouse spokesman.
    Seems that Om’s bashing of Dvorak on Om’s blog was a bunch of hot air.

  • The truth

    Kundra’s appointment is a complete embarrassment to the Obama administration. The Information technology degree isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. This is well know in the industry by employers. It is a fast track Masters program that requires very little technical ability to complete.
    I listen to is speech and it is clear he is a puppet for Northrop Grumman. I appreciate all that that company has done for the U.S. but it is important we keep our eyes open to this fact.
    He pleaded guilty to a Theft charge in 1997. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have an opportunity to work but along with the FBI raid I think we need to rethink our opinion of this guy.

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