Now that the puppy has been picked, it's OUR turn to get some love from the Obama Administration. At last, the geek parlor game of guessing the national CTO has ended.
And, no, the new, much anticipated national CTO is not going to be an emissary from Silicon Valley like Eric Schmidt (though, saying that Obama "spurned the Valley" is going too far). The role is going to be Aneesh Chopra -- a guy who has been, effectively and to much praise, been doing close to the same job at the state level for the Commonwealth of Virginia. In his weekly radio address Saturday morning, President Obama said:
Aneesh Chopra, who is currently the Secretary of Technology for Governor Kaine of Virginia, has agreed to serve as America’s Chief Technology Officer. In this role, Aneesh will promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities – from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure.
Aneesh ... will work closely with our Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for setting technology policy across the government, and using technology to improve security, ensure transparency, and lower costs. The goal is to give all Americans a voice in their government and ensure that they know exactly how we’re spending their money – and can hold us accountable for the results.
Chopra's public and private experience in the technology field made him the right candidate. They also noted his focus on healthcare IT "is ideal for a position that will have responsibilities dealing both with stimulus spending on healthcare and environmental programs."
And, really, if Health IT can't be raised the forefront with Chopra in the White House, it never will.
The 36-year-old Chopra has also been very active in finding innovative ways to use technology to benefit education -- as MacWorld reported this week.
I highly recommend watching a good portion of the video below. It's from this year's Congressional Internet Caucus conference in January. One relevant aside on it is that a Congressman was supposed to be speaking the same morning but was unable to make it because of a family issue. This gave Chopra much more time than he had expected. You'll see that he used it wisely in his very interesting talk on open government, health IT and broadband...
Some speech highlights:
3:50: Open government
11:10: Discovering/searching for govt data
16:00: Open stem education
19:50: A very cool "open textbook" program
22:30: "The iPhone is my life"
24:00: Health care IT
35.15: Broadband policy
44:00: Open education (Q&A)
Chopra may not be a Valley guy, but Silicon Valley is going to like him a lot. He's energetic, insightful and can speak the language (again, watch the video). He's no bureaucrat.
And, just because you didn't previously work for a chip company or an Internet start-up doesn't mean that you "are not a tech guy" as I just read on another blog. Chopra spent a bulk of his career seeing technology in action (for better or worse) in his work in the health care industry and knew that it could and should do better to bring change to the massive sector.
A few quick observations about this choice. First, it looks like very good news for the transparency movement, as well as those of us looking for an open-minded leader willing to experiment with new forms of collaborative governance. For example, back in early 2007, under Chopra's leadership, Virginia was one of the first states to move, with Google's help, to make its state websites more searchable and thus more accessible to ordinary citizens. The state has also been in the forefront of efforts to create robust web services tracking the giant government stimulus spending package enacted by Obama, and as fed-watcher Christopher Dorobek points out, Chopra is well aware of and supportive of citizen-led watchdog efforts like Jerry Brito's StimulusWatch.org.
Under Chopra (and it must be mentioned, his boss Governor Tim Kaine), the state also launched a highly interactive website that collected more than 9000 suggestions from residents on how the stimulus monies might be spent. "Relative to calls and letters, it's fairly safe to say this is probably a tenfold increase in civic participation by allowing people to click on a button, submit their ideas and engage with their governor," Chopra told a local paper back in March.
Finally, like his soon-to-again-be-colleague Vivek Kundra, Obama's Chief Information Officer, who also came out of Virginia before serving as DC's CTO, Chopra is willing to try new ways to innovate government processes, inspired by the open and lateral networking development culture of the internet. Governing Magazine calls him a "Venture Governmentalist," specifically citing "a small but intriguing experiment in Virginia that aims to bring the high-risk, high-reward ethic of venture investing to state government." Last year, Chopra invested $2 million in about a dozen small internal agency tech projects with potential to pay big returns in terms of productivity. "More important, and more unusual for the bureaucrats," says Governing, "he gives them permission to fail. You can't innovate, Chopra tells them, without taking a gamble every now and then." He adds, "We need to fundamentally change the culture of government in which change is measured in budget cycles to one in which change is measured in weeks or months." Who can argue with that?