Vivek Kundra took a leave of absence from his new job as the Obama administration’s Chief Information Officer after the FBI raided the offices of his last position, Washington DC’s Chief Technology Officer, in a bribery and corruption sting. That, however, doesn’t appear to be Kundra’s first brush with the law. After getting a tip, I checked Maryland’s on-line database of criminal records and discovered an entry for a Vivek Kundra, born in 1974 and living in Gaithersburg, in Montgomery County’s criminal district court. According to the data, Vivek Kundra got convicted of misdemeanor theft (for less than $300) on July 31, 1997, in case #0D00031388.
Should this be a disqualifying event for high government office, however? One has to believe that a background check would have uncovered this conviction and the resultant low fine of $530, with $400 of it suspended. The comparison to Tim Geithner, who evaded paying tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, makes Kundra’s misdemeanor look like a merit badge, but Geithner never got convicted in court, either.
According to the White House press release for Kundra’s appointment, Kundra had quite a resume for the job. Not only had he served essentially the same role for DC, but also served a dual role in Gov. Tim Kaine’s administration in Virginia:
Vivek Kundra formerly served in Mayor Fenty’s cabinet as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the District of Columbia, responsible for technology operations and strategy for 86 agencies. He has been recognized among the top 25 CTO’s in the country and as the 2008 IT Executive of the Year for his pioneering work to drive transparency, engage citizens and lower the cost of government operations. Kundra is also recognized for his leadership in public safety communications, cyber security and IT portfolio management. Before Kundra came to the District, Governor Timothy M. Kaine appointed him Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first dual cabinet role in the state’s history. Kundra’s diverse record also includes technology and public policy experience in private industry and academia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership and holds a MS in Information Technology from the University of Maryland.
Taking all of that at face value, should a conviction at 23 years old for misdemeanor theft, from 12 years ago, keep someone with his talents out of government?
I’ve contacted the White House for comment. When I hear back, I’ll update the post.
Update: No response yet from the White House, but I’ll add this from my own experience in the security industry. I ran burg/fire call centers for 15 years, and our employees had to get licensed in several states. In a couple of those states, any adult theft conviction at all would be disqualifying. In some states, they didn’t care about misdemeanors after 10 years. Kundra probably couldn’t get licensed to work in my call center, but apparently can get a job in the White House. I find that fascinatingly ironic, even if it is explainable.