Thursday, March 12, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Vivek Kundra!

So Vivek Kundra already has been forced to take leave of his brand new post as federal chief information officer just days after he finally was officially named to the job. He had been working in the Office of Management and Budget unofficially for a while before the formal announcement, giving rise to rumors and mutterings about why no announcement was forthcoming.

Today, as he spoke to a large audience at the government technology expo, FOSE, in downtown Washington, FBI agents raided the offices where he had served as the District of Columbia's chief technology office since 2007.

According to WTOP Radio, which broke the story of the raid, they took two men into custody. One, Yusuf Acar, is acting chief security officer for the District and buys computers and hires contract employees for city offices. He was charged with bribery of a public official, money laundering, wire fraud and conflict of interest. The other, Sushil Bansal, is president and chief executive officer of Advanced Integrated Technologies Corporation. He also is a former D.C. government employee, charges against him include bribery of a public official, money laundering, wire fraud and conflict of interest.

The two allegedly conspired to fraudulently bill DC for inventory and workers that never appeared, then split the payments.

WTOP reported that AITC had been working for DC since 2004, but that its billings doubled to more than $5 million in 2008 after Kundra took over.

Let's face it. This doesn't look good for Kundra. Even if he bears no taint at all of the alleged crimes, they occurred in part on his watch. According to WTOP, "Bansal's company has offices in D.C. and India and received more than $13 million in business with the D.C. government in the past five years, according to court documents."

So many people, myself included, have had such high hopes for Kundra as a prophet of virtual government and a smart, apparently good-hearted agent of change who both understood and appreciated public servants and the challenges they face. Of course he is innocent until proved otherwise, but Washington is an unforgiving town and Obama is a very careful and tough president facing a snarling GOP ready to pounce. Already he has passed on a number of nominees with lesser problems than a new FBI investigation swirling around them.

Having been on a panel with Kundra and studied him and his accomplishments from afar, I was an early supporter. I remain a supporter of his Gov 2.0 spirit and accomplishments today. But I am sad. Just very, very sad, no matter how this turns out. It's like the tragic story of White Sox slugger "Shoeless Joe Jackson," who was suspended from baseball for life with seven others accused in the infamous "Black Sox scandal" of having thrown the 1919 World Series. "Say it ain't so, Joe," a young fan is said to have implored Jackson outside the courthouse. Tonight I feel what that youngster must have felt.

Shoeless Joe and his seven compatriots were acquitted by a Chicago jury in 1921, but were banned from the game nonetheless. One fears a similar fate for Kundra.

Whatever happens, I salute WTOP's Mark Seagraves for sticking with this story like a terrier with a bone. It's nice to see some good old shoe-leather reporting for a change. It's a dying art, Mark. Big ups.

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