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Where's Firing Fenty When You Need Him?

Where other D.C. mayors talked a tough game and even wielded a broom before the TV cameras, Mayor Adrian Fenty actually signs and delivers the pink slips.

Fail to prevent children from dying at the hand of their disturbed mother? Six social workers sacked. (An arbitrator later forced the city to rehire three of the six, but who's counting?)

Fenty's passion for tossing out the bad apples is most evident in the actions of his schools sidekick, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who fires school principals like most of us butter our toast. She sacked the principal of her own kids' school, a principal she'd just hired seven weeks before, and a principal who couldn't get a handle on violence in the halls of her middle school--and all just in the last few months.

So where's the broom for this guy? Many Fenty administration firings so far have been for failure to prevent bad things, or failure to assert control over embarrassing situations--more or less passive failures. But now comes exactly the kind of overt act of municipal arrogance and stupidity that truly calls out for a clear message from on high:

Vivek Kundra, the District's chief technology officer, thought this was a great idea: As the City Paper's Mike DeBonis reported the other day, Kundra took 46 of his agency's employees and transported them by van to the Skyline Resort in Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah National Park. There, on the city taxpayer's dime, Kundra conducted a "leadership summit" at a cost of $23,000.

That's not millions--we'll leave it to the folks at the Office of Tax and Revenue to rip us off at that level--but the unbelievable gall it takes to mount such an expedition, especially as the city faces a nine-figure budget shortfall, is certainly worthy of some mayoral attention, in the form of a symbolic firing or two. Or are such rituals reserved for low-ranking employees? Are agency heads immune from such punishment?

Amazingly, Kundra was utterly unrepentant when DeBonis confronted him with the folly of his profligate ways. "Part of effecting change is being able to move away from its daily working environment...and a change in environment makes a huge difference in terms of affecting how people look at the problems and effect change," the tech officer told the reporter. Somewhere out there, maybe someone is buying that nonsense. But I doubt that particular someone lives and pays taxes in the District of Columbia.

Perhaps they don't have chairs and tables in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. But the city's taxpayers have already invested in a spanking new Citywide Conference Center high atop the Judiciary Square building where many city agencies are headquartered. Kundra and his staff wouldn't have to travel terribly far to hold their "leadership summit" there.

It's located two floors above the technology office. The generous taxpayers have even thoughtfully provided elevators.

By Marc Fisher |  November 24, 2008; 7:45 AM ET
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Comments

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If the Washington Post keeps this story alive, Fenty will fire him. Keep writing and see how long it takes!If on the other hand, the Washington Post drops this story,Kundra may be safe.....for the time.

Posted by: DCWatcher3 | November 24, 2008 9:07 AM

Marc, this is a terribly shortsighted article and I fear you're doing Washington DC a huge disservice by taking such a myopic view on Vivek Kundura's leadership style and approach to improving DC's technology infrastructure.

It wouldn't be fair for me to attack you, but I have a feeling you do know what it takes to build and motivate a team - especially to do great/new things in government.

Vivek recently green-lighted the Apps for Democracy contest that produced $2,000,000+ in technology innovation value for a $50,000 outlay. That's a 4000% ROI.

Would you rather have a CTO blowing millions on an old, slow, wasteful methods of procuring technology? Or brainstorming with his team in the mountains somewhere figuring out how to save the district $1,950,000+.

I think you owe the citizens of DC a follow-up article with a more robust view of Vivek and OCTO's achievements. As far as I'm concerned your ability to report and qualifications to do so are seriously in question.

If you're wondering exactly what the influence Vivek has had globally and around the Apps for Democracy contest you can find that here:

http://delicious.com/corbett3000/%23apps08+posts

Posted by: corbett3000 | November 24, 2008 9:08 AM

Marc,
While you are doing a great service to DC by looking for and writing about government mishandling of taxpayer funds - 23K? As Peter pointed out, that he was able to save millions by engaging in the big ideas and thinking beyond saving pennies is what DC needs, and you aren't assisting fellow DC residents by nitpicking on the costs of a leadership retreat.

If you do the math, it's $490 a person - far below the average cost of a sending someone to a conference, where the outcome is far less tangible.

Posted by: ZviBand | November 24, 2008 9:29 AM

Marc you are looking for bad things where there are none and slurring a great leader while you are doing it. This is a very inexpensive offsite. This is a very low cost way to enhance the performance of a team. I've done low cost things like this myself over the last several decades, to include walking battlefields at Fredricksburg, Manassaas and even Gettysburg, each with a different facilitator and a different team. Yet each allowed the team to gain deeper insights into our challenges. I've held other offsites in stuffy old conference rooms, and, although those can have great impact if done right, even those cost money.

I'd ask that you think through the possibility that this could actually be exactly like Vivek said in the quote you put above. "Part of effecting change is being able to move away from its daily working environment...and a change in environment makes a huge difference in terms of affecting how people look at the problems and effect change."

For you to slur an honest,hard-working, results oriented person for such a smart management event is just not right, in my opinion.

So my comment: Please, backoff. Then apologize.

Posted by: bob57 | November 24, 2008 9:37 AM

Marc:

You're right, city officials need to be more responsible with taxpayers money. The CTO may be confused, perhaps he thinks he's at a venture funded startup where wasting money on fancy team builders is all the rage.

And as for Peter Corbett's comments, he's right too, but his impartiality is questionable. Of course Corbett thinks Apps for Democracy was a good idea, he's the government contractor hired to run the contest! So I guess he has $50,000 reasons to like it -- and take credit for it. The apps produced have questionable public value, for example: StumbleSafely, an iPhone application so you can plan your drinking binge is less crime ridden areas of the city. It's the type of thing you don't want the CTO spending $1 on, much less fifty thousand bucks.

The CTO shouldn't be fired for making a mistake about a meeting location and excessive budget, but he should know better.

Apps for for democracy $50k + $23k meeting junket = $73,000 spent hastily, if not wasted, by CTO! The CTO needs to worry less about headlines, and more about reforming the deep inner workings of government. Get your head down pal, and stop making rookie errors.

Posted by: DCist | November 24, 2008 9:37 AM

Marc, are you actually basing these charges against Kundra because of an article the City Paper published? Or did you do any original reporting? What makes you think the leadership summit wasn't effective, and the money spent to hold it wouldn't see a ROI via the participating employees? These baseless accusations are frankly just silly.

Posted by: ekatherine | November 24, 2008 9:49 AM

In the bigger scheme of things, if this is the most outrageous thing you have to rail against our government must be doing a great job. Offsite meetings are generally accepted effective tools, as discussed here: http://www.effectivemeetings.com/meetingplanning/offsite/alfresca.asp

Is there some underlying reason for you to attack a respected technologist? Calling for his job because he brought his team together somewhere in an effort to improve things. Surely, Mayor Fenty has many other places he could save that $23k where it is being spent in a more wasteful manner than team meetings. I wonder how much the WashPost spends on their annual Self-Evaluation offsite meetings.


Posted by: cbandler | November 24, 2008 9:53 AM

What a silly story that seems to be based on no real premise. Let's grow up and talk about REAL issues that impact District residents. I've heard nothing but fabulous things about DC's Chief Technology Officer; he's said to be an innovator in government technology and lord knows DC needs to start thinking forward!

Posted by: eastoftheriver | November 24, 2008 10:07 AM

Marc -

To suggest firing Vivek over this is way overboard. You're misrepresenting an action that is actually reasonable - albeit surprising to some given the current state of the economy and DC finances.

Judge Vivek on the bottom line results he is able to accomplish, not on his methods to achieve them.

As others have commented above, this kind of offsite can be very effective. In order to manage to success, you have to make some investments. It's the job of the leader in charge to map out this course. Let him do his job.

Posted by: sparker2 | November 24, 2008 10:11 AM

as one that loathed Susan Peck when she was CTO, to suggest firing this guy over a $23K mgmt retreat is utterly ridiculous. Why fault this guy for effectively managing his budget? he is apparently effectively managing and implementing his budget plan. If DC adopts a policy for no out of town retreats, fine. do not allow anymore. but this practice is common. Marc apparently you have never had a real job. A retreat in our building would be as ineffective as eating lunch at our desk. nothing would get done and folks would be called away all f-ing day. DC government goes to Williamsburg to spot in PA like nothing for retreats.

Posted by: oknow1 | November 24, 2008 10:13 AM

Marc, as always ... proving you are one of the biggest wastes of money on the WaPo payroll!

Posted by: jon76indc | November 24, 2008 10:55 AM

@DCist Love your critical comment! Few things in response:

1) I never claimed to be "impartial". I'm quite the opposite...totally and absolutely partial to what Vivek and the OCTO team are doing...I think it's great and did even prior to them hiring iStrategyLabs to produce the Apps for Democracy contest.

2) The retreat didn't necessary have a direct intention of brainstorming for Apps for Democracy. I have no idea if that was discussed or what was discussed...my point was to say that innovative thinking requires team building and a change of venue most of the time. If you're an innovator, you get that. If your not, you clearly don't.

3) And regarding StumbleSafely: a) it's not an iphone app and b) the implications for being able to map crime occurrences verses where people in the district go out at night is incredibly useful and the MPD is being encouraged to look at it to help reroute their deployments on the weekends. Would you still not spend a $1 on the safety of DC's citizens as they enjoy our wonderful social scene? If so, it's a good thing you don't run the MPD or the OCTO.

Do you have anything positive to say? Or are you going to be reactionary and negative because you've got a "bad case of the Mondays" like Marc?

Lastly, the rest of the country/world happens to think DC is becoming a shining example of technology innovation in government under Vivek's lead...google him...do your homework. You see that DC tech (the official government part and the unofficial emerging tech crowd part) are shaping the DC brand in a very positive way.

You lose Vivek, you lose the future of DC Technology. And that future is bright. It's plain as day.

Peter Corbett
peter@istrategylabs.com

Posted by: corbett3000 | November 24, 2008 11:07 AM

Marc and DCist:

That type of short-sighted penny-pinching is exactly what the city shouldn't be doing.

The most important resource in IT is the people and, frankly, as soon as Kundra starts being cheap, his best people are going to leave for private-sector positions where the purse-strings aren't so tight and they can (gasp!) leave their building for a retreat.

Oh, and good luck finding someone as good as Kundra, when candidates see their predecessor was fired for something so minor.

Posted by: josephgrossberg | November 24, 2008 11:41 AM

I don't think that it is reasonable to take any one item of spending by a manager - in this case, the retreat - and judge it in isolation. The real question is whether the manager is delivering great results with managing his budget and his team, and by all accounts, Kundra is.

I think the real value of what Kundra is doing may continue to surprise the community as it expands - not only the work he is doing within the government, but the excitement and respect he is generating in the technology community. As witnessed in the Apps for Democracy contest, there are many agencies and individuals eager to help create government/private/volunteer relationships using technology to benefit D.C.'s residents, and Kundra is helping to harness the power of that.

Posted by: vpickering | November 24, 2008 12:03 PM

Kundra has saved the city millions by shifting funds from pricey proprietary software to open source and other less expensive options (google docs, etc). I'm not a huge fan of expensive off-sites but it seems clear to me that he has been an exceptionally efficient steward of DC's technology resources.

But even if I agreed fully with your premise, Marc, I'd definitely wonder why you jump to firing (unless it was merely a way to pull in the catchy "Firing Fenty" label).

Posted by: mjsante | November 24, 2008 12:06 PM

Vivek has impressed me with his technology innovation; especially notable given that it is happening inside government.

Marc, how can you criticize an expenditure without considering the benefits? What if spending $23,000 adds $50,000 or more of value? Let's think in terms of cost-benefit analysis and return on investment.

Posted by: david-james | November 24, 2008 12:17 PM

Marc,

This appears to be a one sided article in that you have no comments from the CTO or his staff. What did they spend the 23k on? Was it for training? Lunch? You make a very nasty assertion that the CTO has committed a crime against DC tax payers yet your evidence is thin, a trip outside the city that cost $23,000.

As a technologist and business owner I can share that a trip away from the office for 43 people for $500 each is cheap, dirty cheap. So what was the upside on this event? What was the value that was added to the employees, the process, and thereby DC residents?

If I were the CTO I would want to take my people away from the office to get a clearer perspective every once in a great while. This is a modest cost compared to most events like this.

You article needs a rewrite and better research. Clearly you are an author who wants to "flame on" so as to get the attention of readers...you got it! Now be responsible and give me the facts and not your assessment of them. Let me do the judging as a tax payer and you do your job of reporting the facts, all of them.

Posted by: LorneEpstein | November 24, 2008 12:26 PM

If someone sticks within their own budget to reward their team and help bring them to the next level, doesn't that keep them motivated and improve things for all of us?

Looking at one use of spending rather than the total picture is just fairly short-sighted, and I'd encourage you to look at his record.

I'm not talking about Apps for Democracy--like it or hate it--I'm talking about how he's making this region a much more forward thinking place with regard to technology...and that's trickling down into much of DC's government.

$23,000 is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. And why would one get fired over that? It's not like he didn't have approval. It's not like this wasn't planned out months in advance and sent through all the proper channels. Firing someone for something like this is unfortunately missing the point.

Posted by: technotheory | November 24, 2008 12:27 PM

Marc -- I agree with you. No one should be spending $23,000 on "retreats" when we are in this budget crisis. That is absurd and ridiculous. Even more so, this "retreat" was outside DC. I'd venture to guess that Maryland doesn't go to Virginia for an executive retreat to "think" or vice versa.

People need to understand this is Taxpayer money and not a corporate climate. However, in lieu of firing Mr. Kundra, I would suggest the Mayor give him a harsh reprimand.

I must also say that all Kundra has done is Googleize DC. There are press releases that state that DC.Gov can now be searched thru Google -- WOW! I'll take bets that he is trying to secure a position at Google or Apple when he leaves DC thru his "innovative" work. Innovative my butt.

Stop spending my hard earned taxpayer dollars in Virginia and for executive retreats and start working harder, Mr. Kundra. If not, I can't fire you, but I sure can fire your boss, Mr. Fenty -- Come on, Mr. Mayor, where is that reprimand.

ps. If the City wants, I will go to Hawaii and brainstorm on how the city can save millions of dollars. The trip will only cost $10,000 -- WHAT GREAT ROI. Come on taxpayers Pony up the money. I will start making my flight plans.

Posted by: DCMoney1 | November 24, 2008 12:48 PM

Marc -- External meetings, like this leadership summit (no quotes necessary), encourage out-of-the-box thinking. I’d like to see your arguments against that. Does an external meeting need to cost ~$500 per employee? Probably not, but are you really trying to argue that this money is 100% wasted because the office of the CTO has “chairs and tables” of their own? I know AIG has everyone up in arms about corporate retreat spending, but calling to fire Kundra because of this is nothing short of ludicrous.

Peter Corbett & DCist – Arguments about the values of Apps for Democracy should be saved for a separate write-up, as Marc did not mention it. I am 100% behind the thought that the ROI of Apps for Democracy will be well worth it in the long run, but I think that both of your uses of financial figures are misguiding.

If calls to fire Kundra for this retreat are supposed to be a "cold splash of reality" then consider me wet, but still searching for the "reality".

Posted by: mattsilverman | November 24, 2008 12:52 PM

Also, Fenty only fires if it is a Million or above of taxpayer money, See DOES and Summer Jobs. Less then a Million, a swift letter of reprimand should do the trick.

Also, I am recruiting for Hawaii if people can save the City Money.

Posted by: DCMoney1 | November 24, 2008 12:57 PM

I really think this qualifies as one of the most bizarre Mark Fisher columns ever! It's an entire group meeting for $23,000. That's not a bad price for meeting planning purposes.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 24, 2008 1:09 PM

@mattsilverman great points and perhaps it was unfair for me to associate Apps for Democracy with the retreat, but my intention was to show that Marc Fisher's laser targeted - and misguided - view as too narrow. One look up from his desk would have shown him there's a bigger story here.

That bigger story is about whether or not Vivek/OCTO is delivering value to DC's citizens and in what form. It's a story that should be told. And I'm sure Vivek/OCTO/Fenty will be happy to give you some facts on that.

@DCMoney1 Don't hide in anonymity. Also, get your facts straight...the 'Google' story about dc.gov is not about making it searchable. It's about implementing Google Apps for cross agency collaboration.

If you've done something as ambitious in your own job, please let everyone know - otherwise your belittling of others achievements does nothing but make you look foolish and similarly shortsighted.

Peter Corbett
peter@istrategylabs.com

Posted by: corbett3000 | November 24, 2008 1:21 PM

You jump to conclusions in this piece.

Kundra has done some great things for government transparency and innovative use of IT in his tenure as DC CTO. Part of being a good CTO (or any C-level officer, in government or out) is leading and managing a complicated organization, which includes inspiring and getting the most out of individual performers. $23K spent on a retreat to accomplish these very things is a pittance. I don't know the details of what went on at the retreat (and neither do you, it would appear), but it's entirely possible that Kundra should be congratulated, rather than attacked, for a wise investment in personnel training.

Posted by: dmonasg | November 24, 2008 1:42 PM

I encourage everyone to google for Vivek Kundra and do some research. As many people have pointed out in this thread, this blog post clearly lacks the foundation for demanding that Kundra be fired.

Posted by: AlexBarth | November 24, 2008 1:44 PM

Marc,

I fully support Vivek's efforts to bring an open-source and low-cost mentality to the DC government's technology efforts. If he felt that a retreat was necessary to achieve some of these amazing things, I support that too.

"Trust but verify" is, to me, the best way to approach these types of issues. And in the "verify" department, Vivek's achievements are already some of the most progressive and amazing in the country.

DROdio

Posted by: DanielOdio | November 24, 2008 1:53 PM

I googled Vivek Kundra and I think he should be fired. DC is facing deficits and he takes his staff on junkets because,
"Part of effecting change is being able to move away from its daily working environment...and a change in environment makes a huge difference in terms of affecting how people look at the problems and effect change".

What does this mean? Maybe this guy is some kind of genius. He should realize he is working for a government and is spending taxpayer money.

He's got good press, but what did the taxpayers get for their $23,000. (BTW, this is a lot of money to me. )

Posted by: confused1 | November 24, 2008 2:12 PM

Quite frankly Mr. Kundra has the potential to innovate local governments across the nation, as many people/entities are observing how DC embraces technology. The real story should be on how DC can become a model of change for local governments, reducing cost and increasing efficiencies between agencies and other local governments. What is the real economic impact if you can effectuate change across the nation?

Just remember, innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity. Mr. Kundra's contribution to DC far exceed a $23k leadership retreat and has opened the eyes of many people who can bring innovation to your city.

Terry Martin
martin[]domainlabs.com

Posted by: domainlabs | November 24, 2008 2:16 PM

Marc, I appreciate your role as self-appointed watchdog against DC-area civic outrages, but in this case the appeal of a catchy headline has overwhelmed your journalistic judgment.

Your implied parallel between Vivek Kundra’s leadership team offsite and AIG’s obnoxious junket couldn’t be further off base. AIG execs used taxpayer dollars to splurge on a retreat as a reward to the very people who had run their company into the ground and endangered the US financial system. They deserve all the scorn they received. Kundra’s retreat is nothing like that. He has a proven track record of innovation and used an offsite to generate more ideas of a sort that DC sorely needs. Given his notorious work ethic, I doubt that the session felt like much of a boondoggle to the participants.

The best way to assess expenditures like this is not how much was spent, but what was gained. Since the purpose of a working offsite is to escape from day-to-day distractions and generate innovative ideas, let’s look at a few of the innovations that Kundra’s team has already delivered in 18 months:

1. DC’s Open Data Catalog gives every resident direct visibility into government data about crime incidents, contract awards, vacant properties, construction projects, and more.
2. By moving the city from proprietary software to open-source systems like Google Apps, Kundra has saved a lot of money, and DC officials and first responders have more real-time insight into the state of DC infrastructure and incident responses.
3. His innovative project management “stock market” is helping the city steward resources more efficiently to the projects with the best chance of success.
4. His “Apps for Democracy” innovation competition led to the creation of 47 new tools for DC residents, visitors and officials in just 30 days. Prizes worth $50,000 are expected to yield around $2m of value.
5. He has opened up the procurement process to public scrutiny with a Wikipedia-style site that makes the process of spending our tax dollars more competitive and transparent.

Marc, I look forward to your further investigative reporting into the value that the CTO’s office has actually delivered to DC citizens. I think you’ll discover a lot of good news worth reporting.

Under Kundra and Fenty’s leadership, the District has become nationally known as a hotbed of innovation in using technology for the public good. As a longtime DC taxpayer, I’ve never been so proud of the city’s leadership. It’s a good feeling – let’s celebrate it.

- Joel Whitaker

Posted by: joel_whitaker | November 24, 2008 2:47 PM

Marc,

I think you lost your sizzle on this one. It's a totally one-sided article. I've just recently moved here and I am amazed at what Vivek Kundra has done for the community. As a matter of fact, I know that other communities are envious. Two thumbs down Marc - this article is truly disappointing.

Adam Boalt
Founder
www.BOALT.com

Posted by: boalt | November 24, 2008 2:54 PM

Marc,

In these times of fiscal difficulties we should look to find creative and thoughtful ways to create more opportunities for DC. As a writer you probably aware of difficulties of sparking such creativity. Monotony is a enemy of creativity and Mr Kundra's efforts to inspire such creativity should be rewarded. I its an insult to the to hard working employees of the OCTO to say that each person there did not create $500 worth of value for the great city of DC on that day.

imosquera

Posted by: imosquer | November 24, 2008 3:02 PM

Mark, RETIRE!!! Please...Leave the real journalism to the up and coming.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | November 24, 2008 3:05 PM

This article is the direct result of blogging quotas. Out of interesting things to write about? Feign outrage. Problem solved.

Posted by: burton1 | November 24, 2008 3:34 PM

I echo many of the previous comments, especially those of domainlabs.

Vivek Kundra is a walking, talking government 2.0 inspiration. He's not only rethinking and revolutionizing the ways things are done in DC, but he's also truly embracing the colllaborative spirit and sharing his thinking, stories and knowledge with his counterparts in cities around the world. We should be extremely proud to have such a first class innovator leading DC's technology efforts.

Coming from someone who has spent years consulting with private and public sector organizations about the process of innovation, one of the most important things is infusing thinking with new stimuli. This requires breaking out of our mental boxes as well as our physical surroundings. Vivek's decision to invest in the power of his team's thinking by having a leadership retreat will likely save the District millions of dollars in the long run: they are creating programs and finding solutions that are smarter and more efficient.

Kudos to Vivek for rethinking antiquated systems. This deserves positive recognition, not the kind of recognition raised in this article.

Posted by: mixtmedia | November 24, 2008 4:43 PM

This is a very short-sighted article from someone who neither understands IT from a cost-recovery or revenue-generating potential.

1. Economic downturn or no, top IT talent can still write their ticket. If this retreat does nothing more than prevent one person from leaving, it pays for itself. (Yes, the cost of 1 IT hire can exceed $20k.)

2. If one good idea comes out of this, it pays for itself multiple times over. People do need motivating, they need to reinvigorate and collaborate. I think folks who have never worked in software or IT don't understand the pressure. GM went 20 years without innovating. If an IT business goes 6 months without innovating, it becomes extinct.

3. At $500 per person, this is the most cost-effective retreat I've ever heard of. The only cheaper way to do it would have been to order Pizza Hut and put up some streamers in the Office.

4. 23k is a pittance. At my last company, our power bill for our server farm was $50,000-$60,000 PER MONTH. That's not the cost of the servers, software upgrades, the people who monitor the servers, or the rent on the facility where the servers were stored. That's a $50,000 a month electric bill.

Vivek is an innovator and exemplary of the new breed of city managers. He's not only cutting costs, but driving value. I spen 10 years in the private IT sector and while there are individuals who can either cut costs or innovate, I've only met one or two who could do both simultaneously.

The world is full of bad managers, and it's a travesty that you're picking on one of the great ones. I'll call Fenty's office to lend my support to Vivek.

Posted by: JM12 | November 24, 2008 4:43 PM

One more point: has anyone tried to quantify the new business opportunities that are arising in a tech savvy DC? This town is becoming one of the premier East Coast tech cities, and besides increased public service and better city management, we're also seeing more tech conferences looking our way, which leads into the tourism industry. It's only a matter of time before new businesses choose to relocate here. Folks who are complaining about $23,000 need to think about what kind of place they want this to be in 10 years. A desolate wasteland with $23,000 in the bank, or a thriving new city.

Posted by: JM12 | November 24, 2008 4:47 PM

@corbett3000 "Vivek recently green-lighted the Apps for Democracy contest that produced $2,000,000+ in technology innovation value for a $50,000 outlay. That's a 4000% ROI."

Peter, I would love to hear what an independent 3rd party (not OCTO) would value these 47 applications. I don't think it's appropriate to tout these numbers as a defense of Kundra when you omit that he himself made this estimation.

Furthermore, arguing that this retreat and app competition saved DC "$1,950,000+" is completely nonsensical. Really?

...

All that said, firing Kundra over this 23k expenditure would be gratuitous and unnecessary.

Posted by: lesliethompkins | November 24, 2008 4:54 PM

I can answer the original question.

Mayor Fenty and his wife Michelle welcome baby girl Aerin Alexandra Fenty. Born 6:08 am 9 pounds,1 ounce and 21 inches!Mom and baby r good! http://twitter.com/angiegoff/statuses/1021563600

Chances are, he was at the hospital this morning and if he was with her through the night, taking a well deserved nap.

As for Vivek's impact on DC's innovation and budget, I have been completely impressed with the work he has done. In September, we had Vivek come out as one of our Government 2.0 speakers for an Enterprise 2.0 conference we hosted (and offsite for Government employees of all types local, fed, and state).

Vivek was able to illustrate the savings he has brought to his office with his presentation materials and I believe a google search might show a video of one of these talks he has been invited to give. The reason why people ask him to come talk and share his best practices is that he has delivered results and his work is a model for all major cities in the United State.

As an impartial voter to the APPS for Democracy contest and as a technologist, I can firmly say that the contest was a big win for DC.

Creating one website is not cheap, let alone the numerous entries that were in the contest. Some may seem superfluous, but the end result is rather than DC itself build a costly website on the tax-payers dime, it gets many designs and possibilities, based on the data available.

As someone who used to build/develop/manage websites for Federal Government, I see the number value saved is well more than $2million.

Vivek, keep on trucking.

Posted by: immunity | November 24, 2008 5:51 PM

I'm willing to give Kundra the benefit of the doubt. His team may have come up with dozens of useful, money-saving ideas at this (relatively inexpensive) retreat. Given his track record, the retreat will likely pay for itself.

Posted by: maryspecht86 | November 24, 2008 5:58 PM

Hi Marc,

Clearly you were in a bad mood when you decided to post this.If CTOs in the Government are not innovative then we run the risk of having government officials who will never think or do anyhting out iof the bix. I would weigh the motivation that the staff gained by this off site which is common in corporate culture and should be part of a innovative strategy and 23k wow you devoted a column for that when you recall there are other stories of Recall past stories of expensive toilet seats and hammers to go after.

Give Vivek a break and watch if he doesnt produce results.

Shashi

Posted by: shashib | November 24, 2008 6:01 PM

@Joel, you raise a very good point. "4. His “Apps for Democracy” innovation competition led to the creation of 47 new tools for DC residents, visitors and officials in just 30 days. Prizes worth $50,000 are expected to yield around $2m of value."

Posted by: sucklevine | November 24, 2008 6:37 PM

I don't know the characters mentioned in Fisher's piece, but had the same reaction as most commenters. It seemed like a shallow but concerted effort to wield journalistic power.

It reminds me of a Newsweek piece http://www.newsweek.com/id/170362 in which Evan Thomas et.al. warn Obama to support Chancellor Rhee or be responsible for the demise of DC school reform and hope for our city's poor black children.

I've been impressed with Fisher's other work and hope that this one is an anomaly.

Posted by: efavorite | November 25, 2008 8:44 AM

Pity. I'd hate to think Vivek's lost his head; he was a really nice guy in school.

Posted by: owl1 | November 25, 2008 10:09 AM

Marc,

If given the chance would you really fire Mr. Kunda? I think not. Why? Because, Vivek Kundra is one of the key people in this city's government that is actually making change. Without people like him in the District, how are we going to make progress?

I'd like to propose the exact opposite of your own ideas. Let's retain the best people in our government.

I think this piece is illogical and feels like sensationalism.

Do you feel that your piece is helping or hurting our city?

Posted by: mirlan | November 25, 2008 10:26 AM

What EXACTLY has Kundra done that is so wonderful? I can't tell from reading this blog.

The point is that DC is facing a large budget deficit. In this situation there should be no unnecessary spending. It sends a terrible message.

Oh, and effectivemeetings.com says offsite meetings are a good idea? Wow, what a surprise.

Posted by: confused1 | November 25, 2008 11:17 AM

Marc,
It sounds like you are trying to turn $23,000 into a shock number. Yes, it's a lot of money, but as many other people have pointed out, this (relatively cheap) retreat will more than pay for itself with the ideas it brings about. Retreats like this tend to do that, which is why good managers get people out of the office to brainstorm like this. If we are talking about this only being an issue because of budget issues, then the city should change its budget.

If you have an issue with the CTO, you should focus on that and not push noise out there because you can't find anything to grind on Kundra. This conversation would be much more effective if we could focus on the results Kundra's team is shooting for and hold him and his budget accountable to them.

Eric Gundersen
(For full disclosure, using government data to show that DC is a fun city is key to its future and its economic prosperity. DCist, let's go drinking soon, +1 www.stumblesafely.com)

Posted by: EricGundersen | November 25, 2008 12:14 PM

Lest anyone think the above comments defending this boondoggle junket came about naturally, here is the message that Peter Corbett posted on his Facebook wall yesterday morning:

"Peter: The Washington Post attacks Vivek Kundra, CTO of DC. Please comment on their myopic article."

Posted by: Fisher-TWP | November 25, 2008 12:42 PM

As a former journalist, I can tell you for certain that some real-world business experience by Fisher would have resulted in a completely different column. Instead, you would have praised Kundra for training his team and ensuring the city gets its money's worth from these staffers.

Implementing change in any organization requires strong leadership -- at the top and mid-manager levels. You have to get everyone on board with the changes, some of which will be painful for change-adverse government departments.

A $23,000 investment in leadership development sounds reasonable to me. When a city department buys a gold toilet seat or leases a Benz for its department head, then throw a penalty flag.

http://twitter.com/francishopkins

Posted by: francishopkins | November 25, 2008 1:08 PM

Ok, Mr. Fisher -- let's say it was a "boondoggle junket" - do you really think he should be fired over it?

Let's also say that most of the supportive responses here were sent by a facebook wall comment. Does that make them less sincere? less valid? Is it not ok for people to hear about something and express their opinions about it?

I'm not part of that facebook group and I an an admirer of yours. I just think that this time, you've gone overboard.

It happens to the best of us. And if you're a jounralist, it sometimes happens in print.

Posted by: efavorite | November 25, 2008 1:31 PM

There was also iStrategyLabs' / Peter Corbett's anti-byte newsletter which went out to about 4.2k recipients according to Peter's Facebook. The main blurb linked to this blog post.

My mind is still blown that people argue that the challenge "saved" the city 2 million dollars. It might have created value, a lot of value, even 2 million worth (though I remain very, very skeptical), but if people want to argue that this was money "saved", they have no sense of what the word means.

There are many different ways to incentivize creation but please don't bandy about ROI percentages with three zeros.

Posted by: lesliethompkins | November 25, 2008 2:07 PM

@corbett3000 Peter, quick question, were you at the $23k retreat yourself? I am curious.

Secondly, I feel like no one in the comments of this article has addressed Fisher's main gripe: that the cost of the retreat was too expensive. Is anyone else here willing to say that the retreat might have been too lavish in lights of budget constraints?

Maybe a $10,000 retreat might have been more appropriate?

Posted by: lesliethompkins | November 25, 2008 2:18 PM

As someone who has worked in technology for 20+ years, the $23K expenditure for an off-site was not unreasonable by any standards - government or private sector. Your calling for firing is a bit over the top. DC is fortunate to have attracted a well respected CTO when so many other opportunities for greater pay, prestige, and advancement exist in the private sector locally.

I find your attitude ironic considering your employer is losing money and market share along with many other newspaper companies. Over the years, I have witnessed first hand major waste and complete lack of leadership among the ranks of washingtonpost.com technologists. Even today, your organization fails to communicate how you will survive.

DC's CTO has at least put forth a vision and is executing on one - one that will, in the long term, save taxpayers and improve efficiency in the DC government. We need to give more recognition to these positive efforts. If we do not, how will the government ever attract talent and leadership that actually makes a positive difference?

Posted by: DCTechGuy | November 25, 2008 3:17 PM

I don't know peter Corbett and I dont' know Kundra. I am only now catching up on Kundra's achievements. So I'm just a DC tax-payin' citizen reading this column: Marc, this is pretty off-base. I helped organize planning retreats for a non-profit in VA (and yes, once we came into DC, so folks do cross borders). Firstly, they were IMMENSELY helpful to keep us productive. Secondly, they are not free. Using a local national park IS a great way to cut costs.

Reading nothing but Marc's complaint, I came away thinking Kundra had done a pretty good thing but the District. Times are tight, but unless they are tight enough to actually shut down doing business and dissolve the agency,then we are still expected to meet our goals and improve performance, right? This sounds like a spot-on use of money and this article should instead have put it in the context of other budgets and outcomes.

Posted by: DCgrr1 | November 25, 2008 4:28 PM

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