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16 March 2009 Blog Home : March 2009 : Permalink

Judgement and Crooked Underlings

Tim O'Reilly, Micah Sifry and others seem to think that Vivek Kundra ought to remain as Barack Obama's CTO despite the arrest of one of his employees at his previous job on corruption charges. If you reaf their side of the story the crook, Yusuf Acar who is

a mid-level staffer from the DC Office of the CTO (OCTO) on corruption charges. Kundra is, according to all reports, not implicated in the case, and the FBI affidavit outlining the government's evidence makes no mention of him.

This is true. I don't think anyone believes that Mr Kundra had anything to do with the scam. However if you read the charges you learn that this "mid-level staffer" has been on the take for somewhere between one and four years (the arrest warrant doesn't specify how long but does make it clear that stuff has been happening since 2006).

So what? one may ask. How can this affect Mr Kundra? indeed Sifry quotes Kundra as saying that

"Innovation not only solves problems, it’s one of the best deterrents to corruption. Accountability and innovation keep processes, and personnel, from becoming so entrenched that an individual can beat the system by knowing every process, and every person, down to the tiniest detail and then exploiting them."

"....Central to our culture of innovation is regular 'TechStat' sessions. In these sessions, modeled on the citywide CapStat sessions, we use an interdisciplinary team to delve into particular programs and major problems. By bringing together representatives from the program, procurement, finance, HR, and upper management, we’re finding solutions to problems and ways to operate more efficiently and effectively. TechStat also helps deter fraud by probing every program on a regular basis, and often changing processes. So someone who wants exploit weaknesses in a process will know up front that the process can change at any time, foiling the scheme and maybe exposing it."

The implication being that Mr Kundra's policies perhaps helped identify the wrongdoing.

This, at least from my reading of the arrest warrant affidavit is not the case. Indeed it seems like it was someone in the Inspector General department that raised the alarm. Again one may ask "so what?" Sifry is merely putting a positive gloss on speculation and that's it.

Well here's the catch. Brad Reese has two Network World blog posts that point out a few little issues. Firstly there is this from the DC Examiner:

Yusuf Acar, the technology manager facing allegations of fraud, was consistently promoted by his boss, Vivek Kundra, receiving with each move increasing authority over sensitive information and operating with little supervision, according to government sources familiar with activities inside the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, or OCTO.

"Vivek promoted the guy three times in the last year," said one of at least five knowledgeable government and business sources who, like the others I spoke with, requested anonymity, citing ongoing investigations.

"[Acar] was God," another government source said, noting the tech security shop was "small" and "secretive," monitoring "every keystroke, every tech message, e-mail."

Indeed Reese claims that Acar was Chief Security Officer (CSO) and/or Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO) and hence not a mid-level staffer but a direct report to Kundra. So in fact Acar is not just one workabee in the OCTO hive but apparently a trusted lieutenant of Kundra's, perhaps even a protégé of his. Now one can of course claim that Acar was hiding his crooked side from his boss but one would hope that he showed some sort of reason to be such a preferred subordinate.

Unfortunately Acar seems to be woefully underqualified for the role according to his resume as of c.2002. I'm not one for mindless credentialism but Acar shows hardly any exposure to security equipment in that resume and clearly looks like a network engineer/admin hire not a security hire. Indeed the "objective" on his resume is

To secure a position as a Network Engineer, specializing in LAN/WAN Telecommunications Information Systems utilizing acquired knowledge and experience in achallenging environment.

In fact I'd assert that I personally have more experience than Acar does according to that resume (and I would not consider myself CSO/ISSO material). Of course there are people who teach themselves and there's some 5 years from that resume to when he becamse CSO so he could have learned but absolutely nothing in that resume shows the kind of spirit that likes learning on the job or seeks new challenges.

So there's the question of judgement. Why exactly did Kundra promote this corrupt and not obviously qualified person to increasingly senior positions in his organization?

And since Sifry brought it up. Why did this wonderful openness project take over two years to not find some very  straightforward criminality - signing off on invoices billing the DC government for goods and services that were not in fact delivered and splitting the take. I hope there's something I'm missing but Kundra sounds to me more like a proponant of buzzwords than a producer of real achievements.