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Commentary

Rod Johnson On Federal CTO: Promote Open Opportunity

Whatever the federal Chief Technology Officer's agenda, Mr. President, think big. That was the advice that a group of commercial CIOs, CTOs, and major technology company CEOs offered the president on the task before the soon-to-be-appointed U.S. chief of technology. Open source developer Rod Johnson had another bit of advice: Support open opportunity.
"Whatever the federal Chief Technology Officer's agenda, Mr. President, think big." That was the advice that a group of commercial CIOs, CTOs, and major technology company CEOs offered the president on the task before the soon-to-be-appointed U.S. chief of technology. Open source developer Rod Johnson had another bit of advice: Support open opportunity.Like many of his fellow CIOs, CTOs, and CEOs, Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource and lead developer on the Spring project, considered the role of a federal CTO as supplying leadership to achieve better value for the taxpayer's dollar, greater transparency in government and a national strategy on information that includes national security.

Unlike his proprietary contemporaries, however, Johnson also urged "limiting dependence on proprietary products." That might mean government agency adoption of Open Document Format as the basis for the documents they create instead of relying on proprietary ones. Without a public standard, old government documents might, like old soldiers, just fade away, without anyone being able to do anything about it.

As a matter of fact, Johnson asked in an e-mail response to InformationWeek's question, why not get better value for the taxpayer's money by giving government agencies impetus to adopting open source.

The ideal candidate "would have experience in both government and the IT industry" and a track record as an effective change agent, he wrote.

One of the places where such a change agent might do more than enterprise CTOs is in reducing the digital divide between rich and poor. "It's important that children of low-income earners aren't excluded from computer literacy or Internet access," he said.

In addition to providing a more level playing field, ensuring equal access to technology is a protection against the United States "missing out on the IT skills of many potentially talented individuals," and thus avoiding harm to its own competitiveness in the world economy, he wrote. Johnson is an Australian living in the United States. As such, he can see "California public schools lag significantly behind Australian public schools in this regard," he wrote. A new federal CTO should advance greater use of open source by federal agencies and encourage more open access to the latest technology. To advance those goals, along with all the others -- now that's thinking big.