New federal CTO sets early agenda

Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra provided an early glimpse of his new role, his priorities and his plans today, saying he would focus on game-changing innovations.

In one of his first public appearances since being confirmed May 20 as the country’s CTO, Chopra said he was still in the early stages of refining his approach to the job. The former CTO of Virginia spoke at the American Council of Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Management of Change Conference in Norfolk, Va., where he sketched his vision for how his duties would unfold and where he’d concentrate his efforts.

Chopra said his primary focus would revolve around four themes. The first would be bringing as much policy rigor as possible to transforming the country’s economy through technology-based innovation. “It will be important to think about how we introduce policy to foster innovation” nationally, as well as across state and jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

Second, he would look for game-changing ways to address the president’s priorities through so-called innovation platforms, or new approaches using technology. He highlighted three areas where he planned to concentrate his thinking:

  • Open standards. “We need the private sector to lead, but we need a culture of open standards,” he said. That doesn’t preclude proprietary standards, he added. But open standards and applications that could be shared and replicated easily would remain at the center of efforts to drive innovation.
  • Government research and development. Chopra also envisioned redirecting where the government might focus its research and development commitment. “There’s an emerging debate of how far up the [R&D] food chain we should go” and whether the government should target resources closer to the application stage, he said, adding that he would examine opportunities “in the middle ground, south of procurement and north of R&D.”
  • Crowd sourcing. Chopra said the government would continue to tap the potential of crowd sourcing, or the use of networks of contributors, to gather new ideas and fuel public-sector innovation.

A third major area of focus for the new CTO would be delivering on the president’s commitment to ensure that the country has a reliable and trustworthy digital infrastructure. Part of that effort would include making broadband more universally available nationwide, he said, but clearly cybersecurity is a pressing concern.

“We must have platforms for growth, as well as strategies to make sure they are secure,” he said, referring to President Barack Obama’s new cybersecurity initiative, announced May 29.

Chopra directed a specific message to the software development community, saying, “We’re going to have start a dialogue to develop bug-free software or bug-free software development." He cited several examples of data breaches that stemmed from careless software development.

The last component of his focus, he said, would be to help advance the executive order Obama issued Jan. 21 committing the government to greater transparency, citizen participation and collaboration.

Chopra reiterated the administration’s position on taking a new, more open approach in developing policies, saying the traditional model is backwards. Rather that drafting policies first and seeking public response, he said the government would use new interactive technologies to seek broad public input and then begin to craft policy recommendations.

In addition to focusing on policy recommendations and technology innovations that support the president’s priorities for the economy, health care costs and education, Chopra said he would also look for tools that could help spur innovation. One possibility is working with the General Services Administration to develop an “innovation sandbox” where project ideas could be tested and shared across the government.

Chopra said he was still on a listening tour to become familiar with his new duties and planned to develop a more concrete set of goals, and he looked forward to members of the government technology community holding him accountable to those goals.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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