Obama CTO may lack policy authority

The news that one potential chief technology officer has turned down the offer because it is reportedly not a policy-making position changes the equation that many observers had applied to the role.

Norm Lorentz, who was the first chief technology officer at the Office of Management and Budget early in the Bush administration, said the CTO position must be able to set policy and have the budget authority to enact those policies. Otherwise, the person who fills it will lack the needed tools to exert real influence. 

“Absolutely, it has to be a policy position,” said Lorentz, vice president at the Council for Excellence in Government. If this role does not have the policy-making authority, the CTO is “just a toothless tiger,” he said.

The CTO must also have a direct connection to the president, especially in areas for which he wishes to produce transformational results, Lorentz said. 

According to published reports, President-elect Barack Obama had offered the job to Julius Genachowski, his top technology adviser, who turned it down because of the lack of policy-setting authority. Obama will probably offer Genachowski the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission instead, according to reports.

The Washington Post published one detailed report, citing unnamed sources close to the transition team.

Obama has said that the CTO would make sure that federal networks are secure, lead an interagency effort to implement the best-in-class technologies and share best practices. Obama’s selection has been a hot topic of speculation for weeks.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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