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D.C.'s Kinetic Tech Czar
On a recent day, Kundra visited the District's information control center for first-responders to check on the status of plans to allow officers to receive and file real-time reports from the field on mobile devices. Kundra's next project is to let officers receive text and video messages and 911 call audio. He then darted back to his office for a meeting with his staff about keeping all of the District's communications systems running during Obama's inauguration.
In the span of the next two hours, Kundra visited the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership to discuss plans to create a start-up incubator in the city, drilled his employees about the challenges with expanding WiFi to more areas, met with a middle school robotics team and had to be convinced that he did not have time to coach them this year. Before a budget meeting, he swapped ideas with Princeton University professor Edward Felten.
In November, Kundra was criticized for spending $23,000 to take 46 employees on a leadership retreat at a Shenandoah National Park resort. Fenty said he hadn't signed off on the retreat but that he was supportive.
"This is a director that saves us millions of dollars," Fenty said. "To hire the best people, you have to give them the flexibility to run their agencies. He knows how to motivate employees."
Kundra was born in India and moved to Tanzania at a young age. His family came to Gaithersburg when he was 11. His first language is Swahili.
One of his earliest memories after moving to Maryland is seeing a TV commercial for dog food. "I was shocked," he said. "I was used to seeing people starve in Africa. It was mind-boggling to me that people could afford to feed their dogs!"
His frugal upbringing may contribute to his eye for economical solutions. The project managers on the "stock floor" he set up say he bases every decision on reams of data. If a project is losing money, he and his team go to the "Oxford-Union debate room," where the employees are tasked with convincing him why a venture should be saved.
"It's his creativity," Chopra said when asked why he chose Kundra for Kaine's administration. "One might typically approach a problem a certain way, but Vivek produces a second, third and fourth alternative, and it's usually one of those alternatives that ends up being the solution."