Batting .500

Everybody knows that all desis are either doctors or engineers. Today the White House managed to gain an engineer, Vivek Kundra, as the new White House CIO and “lose” a doctor, Sanjay Gupta, who pulled out of contention for the Surgeon General’s position.

Kundra is the former CIO for Washington DC and Obama’s “tech daddy,” He was born in Delhi, grew up in Tanzania (he speaks Swahili as a first language) and came to the US when he was 11.

But don’t worry, DBD’s, his globe trotting youth hasn’t led him to forget where he came from. In 2007 he assembled the largest US trade delegation ever to visit India. Not bad for a guy who is only 34!

In just 19 months with the District, Mr. Kundra has moved to post city contracts on YouTube and to make Twitter use common in his office and others. He hopes to allow drivers to pay parking tickets or renew their driver’s licenses on Facebook. [link]

He will oversee $71 billion in annual technology spending across the government and set standards for the design of federal systems. [He said that] government needs to stop thinking it is special.Instead of designing custom systems for each problem, it should use off-the-shelf software and approaches whenever possible. [link]

Right now the federal government relies on extensive custom built systems, generated by expensive private contractors who make a lot of money, and sometimes leave the government with systems that are years behind schedule, over budget, and don’t even work (like the IRS computer upgrade). Moving towards off the shelf systems, when possible, will avoid a lot of that and produce more modern, robust, computing solutions.

But what you really care about isn’t the computer geek, it’s the former Sexiest Man Alive, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Gupta withdrew his name from consideration for the Surgeon General’s position today, saying “It’s not you, it’s me” and “I’m just not in the right place in my life for what you’re offering.”

This is more about my family and my surgical career,” …The neurosurgeon said he would likely have had to give up practicing had he taken the job as the nation’s top doctor.

In addition, the 39-year-old and his wife are expecting their third daughter any time, and the government job would have meant long periods away from his family, he said. “I think, for me, it really came down to a sense of timing more than anything else,” he said. “I just didn’t feel I should do that now.” [link]

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p>I’m not surprised by this. I got the feeling that he and Daschle were chosen as a team, with Gupta playing the Diana Ross to Daschle’s Berry Gordy, or more accurately playing Ronnie Spector to Daschle’s Phil Spector.

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p>In other words, Gupta was to be the front man, the charmer, the one to sell Obama’s health reforms to the general public, while Daschle made certain they would get through Congress. Without Daschle, his role was put in jeopardy.

one source close to him said he was very disheartened by Daschle’s fate and fearful he was not going to get a prominent role in the health-reform process. [link]

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p>I suspect Gupta was asked not to withdraw until a new HHS candidate was chosen, so as not to cause embarrassment.

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p>Of course, Gupta would also have lost a lot of money if he had become Surgeon General. In addition to his CNN salary, he controversially accepts speaking fees of $30,000-50,000 for addressing groups including drug companies. (This also would have been a problem for Gupta during his confirmation hearings, given the administration’s position towards lobbyists and how most health journalists wont take outside money)

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p>I think, in the end, it was more about the politics than the money. At age 39, Gupta had plenty of years left to make oodles of cash. And if the money was so important, he would have stopped the Obama administration from confirming that he was their front runner (he was never formally selected), since the money issue was clear all along.

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p>My guess is that the position was no longer attractive enough to compensate for the risks involved with leaving his comfortable position at CNN. And, who knows, Gupta might be the first politician to say that he wanted to spend more time with his family and actually mean it!

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p>p.s. I predicted Gupta’s refusal over a month ago, although for the wrong reasons.

Related posts: The knives come out for Gupta, Too sexy for this job?, Paging General Gupta. The country needs you…STAT, Job security for Aasif Mandvi?

13 thoughts on “Batting .500

  1. Right now the federal government relies on extensive custom built systems, generated by expensive private contractors who make a lot of money, and sometimes leave the government with systems that are years behind schedule, over budget, and don’t even work (like the IRS computer upgrade). Moving towards off the shelf systems, when possible, will avoid a lot of that and produce more modern, robust, computing solutions.

    think ibm, andersen, eds. i’d be curious if they actually go cloud. bureaucrats dont care whether a company can actually do the work. it’s about who has more umbrella coverage. this is why you – sons and daughters – invest in the big pigs now. they’re assembling, hooves raking and snouts rooting for edible nuggets in slop served by the gov’t in the giant trough.

  2. Sanjay has a tax problem! Sanjay has a tax problem! Na na na na na.

    Ok. I’ll shut up now.

  3. Everytime I see Dr Sanjay Gupta on T.V, the word “Fraudia” comes to mind.

  4. As someone in the high-tech industry, I find Vivek’s total lack of any industry experience a bit bothersome. There might not be much depth there. On the other hand, he is a far better choice than Padmashree Warrior, the biggest self-promoter there ever was. Good luck to him!

  5. Kev – he has won CIO and CTO awards. I haven’t looked at these closely though, so I can’t tell if they’re segmented by public/private.

    I’m a bit more troubled by his relatively short experience in the public sector, I don’t think he was in his job long enough to see the problems that might occur, but this is an administration that doesn’t shy away from hiring young people for important jobs.

  6. but this is an administration that doesn’t shy away from hiring young people for important jobs.

    the more things change… le singhada. when trudeau came to power at the height of trudeaumania, he had much the same idea. he pushed through a college in toronto where the students taught themselves and awarded themselves degrees. many an idiot got a graduate degree in that era. reports abound of stevedores arriving fresh off the boat from england and getting a master’s in english (hey! it’s their native tongue after all) within a year – and off to the public trough teaching in a school.

    youth has much going for it. wisdom is not one of those things. i sorta have a vision of those robin williams like teachers in university who’d try to be down wid it and come off being ineffectual and looking like idiots. i hope kundra does the right thing and surrounds himself with experience. change for the heck of change is a heck of hooey.

  7. Khoofia – your complaints apply even better to the private tech sector where you have to change features every few years to entice users to upgrade, and make it look like you’re not standing still.

    Now Kundra could surround himself with 60 year old experienced tech hands, but their experience would largely be with mainframes (now called giant servers, they still dominate both large private and public jobs)

    Lastly, the old hands in the last Bush administration, like Cheney and Wolfowitz, were in some ways the most revolutionary.

    While your insights are always brilliant, I’m not following you on this one, possibly because it’s a bit too wise for somebody of my callow youth to appreciate ;)

  8. Khoofia – your complaints apply even better to the private tech sector where you have to change features every few years to entice users to upgrade, and make it look like you’re not standing still.

    agreed man. it’s called the bicycle model and Intel is a master of the game. All comp manufacturers are held hostage.
    but dont mind me. i’m having a horrible day. these kids will make my lustrous daarhi totally chitta in no time. le singhada.

  9. While your insights are always brilliant, I’m not following you on this one, possibly because it’s a bit too wise for somebody of my callow youth to appreciate ;)

    what i meant was that it is not possible to work inside the system and not be compromised by the powers that be. unfortunately, my experience is that bureaucrats are more inclined to go with the company that show maximum risk aversion (and maximum umbrella insurance coverage, 3rd party liability etc) because that is the nature of the beast. the little guys unfortunately do not have the budget to cover all their risks. accenture, ibm etc thrive in this environment because htey create a perception of solidness despite being utterly mediocre in their services organization. hence they win the contracts. it’s that, plus the ex-bureaucrats and the pop tarts they have working for them. Among the group – they know what triggers to push and for whom. government IT is not for indie ventures.

  10. . the little guys unfortunately do not have the budget to cover all their risks. accenture, ibm etc thrive in this environment because htey create a perception of solidness despite

    thus… we have (to quote you)

    generated by expensive private contractors who make a lot of money, and sometimes leave the government with systems that are years behind schedule, over budget, and don’t even work (like the IRS computer upgrade).

    and not…

    Moving towards off the shelf systems, when possible, will avoid a lot of that and produce more modern, robust, computing solutions.

    the verld is a wampire.

  11. 9 · khoofia said

    unfortunately, my experience is that bureaucrats are more inclined to go with the company that show maximum risk aversion (and maximum umbrella insurance coverage, 3rd party liability etc) because that is the nature of the beast

    Not to belabor the point but this is very true of the private sector too. Not for nothing is it said that you can’t get fired for buying IBM. (Thankfully, Obama is at least talking about limiting no-bid contracts, which seem like they would engender the worst form of cronyism, lack of accountability, and, at its most benign, the low risk aversion that you allude to. I hope he is successful although as Yes Minister demonstrated so wonderfully, the best of intentions are no match for a determined bureaucracy.)

  12. CIO is not a cabinet level position, which means that indian-americans still lag way behind chinese, japanese, hispanic and african americans in political achievement. Obama has appointed two chinese americans to prominent cabinet level positions: Nobel Laureate Steve Chu as Energy Secretary and ex-Governor of Washington state Gary Locke as Commerce Secretary; and japanese-american General Shinseki as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. It is quite remarkable that east asians have garnered three positions in Obama’s cabinet. Previous Presidents including starting with Reagan usually had just one. Obama also has a chinese-american friend and aide in the White House.

    It is also interesting to note that both of Obama’s half-siblings have married chinese: his half sister from his white mother’s side is married to a chinese-canadian and his half-brother from his Kenyan father’s side lives in China, is fluent in Mandarin and is married to a chinese woman.