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10 Questions For Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra

Chopra talks about the role of technology in government policy, and advancing Obama's healthcare IT, smart grid, education technology, and economic development agendas.

During the 2008 presidential election campaign and then again after his confirmation, Barack Obama caused a considerable buzz in the tech community by promising to appoint the nation's first federal chief technology officer to drive a wide range of innovation policy.

Last week, InformationWeek sat down with new federal CTO and assistant director for technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Aneesh Chopra at his office, a stone's throw from the White House, to talk about his role.

InformationWeek: How do you define your role and responsibilities?

Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra: As the associate director for technology within the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to provide thought leadership on the role of technology in government policy, [for example] how might we advance an R&D agenda on information security, how might we look for opportunities for innovation in biotechnology and the energy grid.

I [also] serve as chief technology officer. The president has acknowledged we are undergoing a fundamental transformation in our economy largely driven by technology innovation and asked that, in his senior leadership, he would like the voice of technology innovation to be at the table in major decisions.

InformationWeek: Talk about that for a minute. Where at the table are you?

Chopra: I sit in the White House staff meeting every morning, led by Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff. I serve on the National Economic Council, as well as the Domestic Policy Council.

InformationWeek: How often do you talk to the president?

Chopra: As needed. I've been on the job now officially since the 23rd of May, so it's been just over two and a half weeks. I've been in events with the president but have not had a policy issue that warranted his attention.

InformationWeek: Tell me about the team that you have working around you. Which offices fall under your purview?

Chopra: Working for me are Beth [Noveck, deputy CTO for open government] and a few on-detail staff members. Agencies might detail a research thought leader to the White House in support of a larger mission. We have the lead for the national nanotech initiative, we have leaders for NASA engaged on aviation and space issues, we have staff focused on cybersecurity, and open government.

InformationWeek: Let's get into your priorities. What are they?

Chopra: These are general pillars, and I look forward to sharing specific deliverables that I intend to focus upon soon.

The four vision categories are: to support the nation's economic growth strategy through improvements in technology-based innovation; addressing the modest number of presidential priorities -- the list includes healthcare IT, smart grid, education technology, and economic development; deploy secure, resilient, next-generation digital infrastructure with a focus on broadband and cybersecurity; and instilling a culture of open, innovative government.

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