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Commentary

Federal CTO: Gov-Tech Guru, Or Private Tech Evangelist?

President Obama has promised to appoint what's being called the first federal CTO. There are two big areas that person could focus on: driving government itself to be a better user of IT, and championing policies that help IT companies thrive and expand technology use generally in the United States. Where do you want the federal CTO spending the most time?
President Obama has promised to appoint what's being called the first federal CTO. There are two big areas that person could focus on: driving government itself to be a better user of IT, and championing policies that help IT companies thrive and expand technology use generally in the United States. Where do you want the federal CTO spending the most time?We've been reaching out to IT leaders on the question of the federal CTO's agenda, and I talked today with CompTIA CEO and president Todd Thibodeaux.

Thibodeaux makes the case that if the job is more than about 25% focused on driving government's use of IT (on the gov-tech guru side of things, in my question), it's a missed opportunity. "I would hate to see this get bogged down in that entirely," he says. Thibodeaux's take is that departmental CIOs aren't doing badly on that front, and the momentum is moving in favor of tech-enabled openness and collaboration. "Barack Obama on his own is going to do a lot of that," he says.

More important to Thibodeaux is leadership on issues that create an environment for private-sector tech to flourish. (He's good at making this case, since tech companies are CompTIA's members.) His agenda includes the CTO clearing the path for next-generation broadband, defending net neutrality, and advocating for tech-friendly policies like expanded R&D tax credits for businesses and education credits for individuals. He also sees a big international role for the federal CTO, interacting with counterparts abroad the way the G7 finance ministers do.

We're in the midst of talking to a lot of smart people on this topic, and I have an open mind, but my hunch is Thibodeaux's correct in his notion that 75% or more of this job should be focused on the broad tech evangelist role, rather than dialed into helping government use IT. The White House site doesn't offer much of a hint at priorities, with its long list of technology needs. Let us know what you think the new CTO should make the top priority.