President Obama's tech czar is back at his desk this week after taking a leave of absence from the White House following an FBI probe into his former office. Former Washington, D.C., CTO Vivek Kundra, who was recently appointed Federal CIO, has not been implicated in the FBI's corruption investigation, which centers on a city employee and a technology consultant. The Washington Post reports that Kundra returned to work Tuesday following his five-day hiatus, easing tech sector worries about the possible impact on Obama's long-term IT strategy. Despite his brief retreat from the spotlight, Kundra was embroiled in his own unrelated mini-scandal earlier this week, regarding a run-in with the law more than a decade ago. In 1996, the then 21-year old pleaded guilty to theft, according to Maryland court documents, and received a $500 fine. Documents from the Montgomery County District Court list the value of the theft as less than $300. After gaining access to Montgomery police records, the Associated Press reported that Kundra shoplifted four dress shirts worth $134 from J.C. Penney. "Thirteen years ago, Vivek Kundra committed a youthful indiscretion," Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman, told TheStreet.com. "He performed community service, and we're fully satisfied that he resolved the matter." The precise circumstances surrounding Kundra's leave of absence are still unclear, however, although the White House is keen to have the one-time D.C technology chief help drive the federal IT agenda. Obama, who has seen so many of his key appointees become mired in controversy, is desperate to drag U.S. government IT into the 21st century.
The reputed tech-savvy BlackBerry-addict is preparing to roll out his 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. 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. 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. Citing someone familiar with the situation, the New York Times reports that Kundra had disclosed the youthful arrest to the White House and to all of his previous employers.