Mitch Kapor is a smart guy who gets both the business side of tech and the policy world. He founded Lotus way back in 1982 and cofounded EFF in 1990. More recently, he became one of Senator Obama's (several) tech advisors who helped the campaign devise its tech policy policy positions.
The current MIT Tech Review has an interview with Kapor where he expounds on his call for a National CTO...
TR: Why does the country need a CTO?
Kapor: The underlying premise is that tech is inextricably intertwined with virtually everything. You can't talk about homeland security or education or energy without it being in large part a conversation about technology. The president will be well served if policy making is done in a more technologically sophisticated way.... The advantage of a CTO is that there can be coördination. There's a ton of work that goes on within different agencies: there needs to be someone to identify the best ways of doing things and some common practices.
When the Obama tech policy plan was announced, I wrote:
A month or so ago the question of whether the next president should have a CTO came up in a work conversation among a diverse group of tech policy folks. We all agreed that the title is nice, but you would need to establish and delineate real power for it. Of course, the best way to do this would be to create a cabinet position for technology and innovation. People rolled their eyes at this until it was reminded to them that we do have a Secretary of Agriculture. What industry is more important to the next 100 years of the United States?
Of course, historically, the adding of a new cabinet position generally comes in a time of war or heightened crisis. Not during slow boiling worries over competitiveness.
So the most telling tech policy appointment by the next president will be Secretary of Commerce (yes, more so than FCC chair). The president will have a host of business leaders from multiple sectors to chose from. Will he pick one who eats, sleeps and breaths technology driven innovation? Or one more comfortable with the oil or food industries (for example)? This Secretary will have the authority to provide a true bully pulpit amidst an administration.
A national CTO would be a nice to have. A savvy Commerce Secretary is a need to have.
Update: Scoble has jumped into this convo with a discussion on who the CTO should be.