Obama's Vision For A CTO - InformationWeek

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11/10/2008
05:50 PM
K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones
Commentary
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Obama's Vision For A CTO

All eyes in the tech community are watching to see who will become the nation's first chief technology officer. While there's plenty of speculation and uncertainty about who will fill those shoes, it's clear what the next president expects from the person who fills them.

All eyes in the tech community are watching to see who will become the nation's first chief technology officer. While there's plenty of speculation and uncertainty about who will fill those shoes, it's clear what the next president expects from the person who fills them.Members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team have indicated that the CTO will be a Cabinet-level post and advisers said several Cabinet members will likely be named by the end of the month.

While media have reported a short list of names -- and Google CEO Eric Schmidt reportedly "turned down the job" when a reporter asked about it over the weekend -- Obama advisers said it's unlikely Cabinet members will be named this week.

However, the next president tipped his cards a year ago this Thursday, when he outlined a vision for the position in a comprehensive technology agenda. While he sought the Democratic nomination, Obama touched on all of the hot-button technology policy issues and explained how he believes technology can work to solve other government issues.

It was the most broad, detailed, and lengthy technology policy statement from any presidential candidate. The section that outlined plans for the CTO position made clear that openness is key.

It also made clear that the White House is likely to continue reaching out directly to voters and U.S. citizens and encouraging participation through technology, as the campaign did.

"The CTO will have a specific focus on transparency, by ensuring that each arm of the federal government makes its records open and accessible as the E-Government Act requires," Obama said through the policy statement. "The CTO will also focus on using new technologies to solicit and receive information back from citizens to improve the functioning of democratic government."

The CTO will oversee the government's infrastructure, policies, and services to facilitate cooperation and ensure the best-in-class technologies, and practices, according to the statement.

The federal government's technology leader also will oversee the safety of the networks and interoperability. That will likely include the deployment of a national, interoperable wireless network for local, state, and federal first responders. The 9/11 Commission recommended the move and Obama's policy statement said it could help prevent a recurrence of the communications failures after Hurricane Katrina.

It's still not clear just how the CTO will coordinate with people in existing government IT security and technology positions and where technology will rank on the long list of pressing priorities facing the next president.

Even if the CTO Cabinet position is among the last to be filled, Obama has indicated that a new administration is likely to be backed by many people with experience in the technology industry, through policy-making councils and groups, not to mention tech-savvy staffers who helped propel Obama to victory.

And, based on that demonstration of tech sophistication and interest during the campaign, industry insiders will have high expectations for technology appointments and strategies in the coming months and years.

"Obama used technology very successfully in his campaign and is a tech-savvy person in general," said Rurik Bradbury, chief marketing officer for Unison Technologies, which provides a unified communications platform for phone, e-mail, and instant messaging. "He has committed to aggressive investment in green tech and I hope he mirrors that approach in the IT industry, which is one of America's great competitive advantages."

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