Obama’s promise to appoint a federal CTO has created a frenzy of speculation, especially among those concerned with privacy, security, government management, intellectual property, national Internet policy, and many others, including the transparency community. The discussion has become a Rorschach test of sorts, leading civic advocates of all kinds to project their priorities onto the soon-to-be established office.
Here’s what we’ll be looking for: A small-d democratic visionary: The CTO should be someone who has a vision of how the Internet and related technological advances can involve Americans in their government again, improve the effectiveness of government, and make the democratic process more engaging and participatory. He or she also must have the ability to spread that vision across government and with the larger public, by making the work and data of government more open, available, and transparent.
A balanced appointee: The CTO should have competence both as a technologist and a manager, since the CTO must understand the underlying technology to achieve the goals outlined above, as well as have the managerial clout to implement them. While a solid combination of these distinct skills is probably hard to come by, they’re both necessary for setting a new national course for government to use technology to achieve public information and engagement ends.
A strong office: The CTO’s office could be any number of places within the administration, and its location will determine the amount of authority a CTO can wield. We’re looking for real leadership and centralized authority within the executive, with the clout and presence necessary to coordinate technology usage and policy government-wide. The appointee should work closely with the President, and have the ability to act with the force of his authority, with reliable funding, staff, and a strong mandate for reform.
Specialized staff: Though the deputies presumably working under the CTO will likely be announced later, their specialized expertise should reflect the variety of challenges the CTO will face. Sunlight is looking to see staff in the CTO’s office dedicated to creating a more transparent government, starting with President-Elect Obama’s promises to make crucial data about ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying far more accessible online.
An interactive role: The CTO should lead, by example, the government’s efforts to cultivate the public interactions by which technology policy is best developed. Mailing lists, contests, blogs, standards bodies, and coordinative task forces have all been deployed successfully in the past. The CTO’s office should be our best example of taking advantage of public expertise and enthusiasm, by using the same technologies and best practices that can transform the rest of government.
Change We Can Believe In, (p. 88):
Appoint a National Chief Technology Officer
Barack Obama will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. To that end, he will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the twenty-first century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices
New York Times piece mentioning Obama’s expected announcement tomorrow.
UPDATE: via nextgov:
According to the Obama transition team, they have no plans to announce who may fill the CTO position on Wednesday. According to senior reporter Jill R. Aitoro:
“That report is wrong, there is no CTO announcement on Wednesday,” said Nick Shapiro, transition spokesman in an email correspondence with NextGov.com. He confirmed also that the person would not be named tomorrow either. Beyond that, no details were provided about when the announcement might be made, and other members of the transition team did not respond to inquiries.