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Federal CTO Chopra Meets Silicon Valley

The federal government's chief technologist outlined priorities and talked of the need for procurement reform, new approaches to tech education, and open innovation.

Making his first appearance as federal CTO in Silicon Valley, Aneesh Chopra said government and industry need to work better together to spur innovation in areas such as healthcare IT and the smart grid.

In an Aug. 4 presentation sponsored by the Center for Democracy and Technology and TechNet, Chopra outlined the Obama Administration's plans to spur innovation, using favorite examples such as how Procter and Gamble invented a new diaper for the developing world.

Though Chopra has more of an industry-facing role than federal CIO Vivek Kundra, the two work closely on many government initiatives, and Chopra took questions from the audience on procurement reform, federal IT workforce development, and "open innovation" in government.

Chopra said his most important daily role as federal CTO is that of translator and mediator between technologists and business people, in which he tries to bridge the gap between business needs and what actually gets developed. This remains a roadblock to innovation in both business and government, he said. As one remedy, Chopra recommended that universities begin placing a stronger emphasis on "customer experience design workshops" that bring business and technology concerns together. Chopra said he will try to institute such workshops in the federal government as well.

On procurement reform, Chopra said that the government needs to better educate the industry on innovative procurement vehicles already in existence such as the Department of Defense's, which lets the DoD take ideas posted on the Web site and funnel them into a process that leads to the purchasing of new technologies.

Over the medium term, the administration wants to help spur focused innovative use of technology inside government with incentives like prizes and challenges, while longer term there needs to be wide-scale procurement reform. "It's not easy, but we've got leadership at the Defense Department willing to do this, and other agencies are looking to follow suit," Chopra said.

Government agencies need to better leverage shared intellectual property, he added. "The challenge for us is that 90 cents on the dollar is spent custom developing on top of that stack, and we're not sharing the intellectual property agency to agency," he said. One sign of progress: The Defense Information Systems Agency's open source code repository has taken a lead in this area, sharing custom developed applications among the different branches of the military.

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