Obama’s CTO: Fixing Government IT or Setting Nationwide Policy?

by on January 16, 2009 · 10 comments

In early December, Jerry Brito asked whether Obama’s proposal to create the post of  Chief Technology Officer (CTO) should be feared or welcomed:

I think the question turns on whether this person will be CTO of the United States or CTO of the U.S. Federal Government. While I personally believe the former should be feared, the latter should be welcomed.

I agree completely—and it now seems that this is in fact where the incoming Administration is heading.  BusinessWeek reports that the Obama Administration has narrowed its choices down to two Indian-American CTOs:

  • Vivek Kundra, D.C.’s CTO
  • Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s CTO

Judging by BusinessWeek’s short descriptions, both candidates sound terrifically well-qualified to lead implementation of Obama’s oft-repeated promises to bring the United States government into the Web 2.0 era.  More importantly, the fact that the two likely candidates are CTOs—rather than, say, advocates of any particular technology policy agenda—strongly suggests that the Obama administration isn’t contemplating giving the CTO authority to set technology policy outside the Federal government.  

Whomever Obama chooses in the end will have his or her work cut out for them.  While free marketeers may indeed have much to fear from Obama’s technology policy agenda in terms of over-regulation, increased government control and market-distorting subsidies, e-government is one area where we ought to be able to cheer the new President on:   The Federal government could be made much more transparent and democratically accountable if Federal agencies simply adopted some of the tools users take for granted on private websites-such as RSS feeds and standardized data. 

Let’s just hope that Obama makes it very clear in creating the CTO post that its responsibilities are indeed strictly limited directing adoption of information technology inside the Federal government, so that the position doesn’t mushroom into the more powerful “Technology Czar” some rightly fear.

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