News & Politics

If Obama Appoints a Tech Czar . . .

As we begin to think about what a Barack Obama administration might look like, one of the intriguing ideas the Democratic nominee-to-be has proposed is a Cabinet-level chief technology officer.

CTOs, a now-common post in corporate America, could be a new approach for a government long hamstrung by ill-conceived and poorly executed computer projects.

Obama has called for the position to coordinate the government’s tech infrastructure, work on issues of transparency, and oversee development of national projects like emergency communications.

Names kicking around Silicon Valley and the tech community as CTO candidates include Google’s Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and Lotus pioneer Mitch Kapor.

An alternate vision has Obama turning to someone like Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton who has been doing a lot on government transparency and voting machines.

One person on many shortlists for the position, intellectual-property guru and Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, told The Washingtonian that he’d turn down the job if offered: “The CTO would have to be a true geek, not a wannabe geek.”

After years of tech ignorance at the upper levels of the federal government—see Ted Stevens’s infamous “series of tubes” speech in 2006 or President Bush’s references to “the Google”—the push for a national CTO comes at a time when Washington and Silicon Valley are trying to develop closer relationships. Google opened its first official Washington office in January, and in February the Newt Gingrich PAC American Solutions dispatched Capitol Hill veteran Dave Kralik to open an office in Silicon Valley.

Who would you like to see be appointed Obama's "tech czar"? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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This article appears in the July 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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