President Obama's ambitious tech strategy has suffered a setback with news that the his recently appointed IT czar is on leave from the White House following an FBI probe into his former office. Former Washington, D.C. CTO Vivek Kundra, who was appointed Federal CIO last week, is not implicated in the investigation, which centers on a city employee and a technology consultant. Charges were lodged against the two men at a federal court hearing on Thursday as FBI agents finished searching the city's technology office. The White House has not yet responded to a call from TheStreet.com. At this stage, no reason has been given for Kundra's absence, nor has their been any indication of when he will return. Kundra's absence from the White House can hardly help Obama's grand IT agenda. The new president, who has had a tough time getting his Cabinet in place, must now do without Kundra's services at a time when his administration is preparing to roll out its technology masterplan. Obama wants to overhaul the U.S. health care system by allocating $10 billion a year over five years to build an electronic medical record system. Other planks of the strategy include making government data easily accessible online, making the research and development tax credit permanent, and extending broadband access to all Americans. With the U.S. tech sector hammered by a tough economy, the last thing American businesses want to see is Obama's right-hand-geek out of the picture for any period of time.
"It definitely makes things harder," said Ethan Oberman, CEO of cloud storage company SpiderOak. "Building up our infrastructure in terms of our ability to send and receive information is crucial -- it has to flow freely for both the government and the business sectors." Kundra's specific role is to direct policy and planning for federal IT investments, oversee federal tech spending, and ensure information security and privacy across government. Based in the White House, Kundra will work closely with Obama's yet-to-be-named government CTO, a possibly cabinet-level role which has been described as the world's most powerful geek. In a press briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described the FBI's probe as a "serious matter," but said that the administration has no plan to change the way it makes appointments. With the specifics of Obama's tech strategy still unclear, there has been speculation that Kundra will be the president's IT "fixer." The yet-to-be-appointed CTO, however, may be more of a tech "visionary" forging links with the private sector to implement the latest technologies. Kundra's strong background in government IT helped him clinch the role of federal CIO. Seen as an expert in public safety, cyber security and IT portfolio management, the tech guru was responsible for technology operations across 86 D.C. agencies. Prior to becoming Washington, D.C.'s CTO, Kundra worked as assistant secretary of commerce and technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first dual cabinet role in the state's history. The University of Maryland graduate has also served as vice president of marketing for identity management specialist Evincible Software and as CEO of Creostar, where he advised clients in government and industry on IT governance and strategy.