It has never been clear how a “chief technology officer” would actually fit into president-elect Barack Obama’s administration, organizationally speaking. Given the long list of items on the Obama tech platform — and the many competing politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. — making substantial changes will be a tall order no matter what. Especially when the idea of using technology to make the government more accessible to citizens is at the top of that list.
That is why I’m increasingly concerned about the administration’s apparent lack of focus right now on both filling the CTO position and explaining how it fits in with the rest of the government. Instead, news reports are all about who will be secretary of this or that department.
Is the next Treasury Secretary, for example, really going to care about publishing detailed information about which financial institution is getting what bailout money under what terms just because the new CTO says they somehow should, six months from now, for the sake of transparency in government?
Obama has done an amazing job of using the internet to create interest and raise money for his campaign. He built strategies for using the web into the campaign from its early days, and benefited in the long-term through prolific exposure on sites like YouTube and Facebook, and hundreds of millions in campaign dollars.
Now is the time for him to build the innovative tech ideas he cares about most into his cabinet.
Of course, he has been president-elect for exactly one week — and he’s already moving faster to fill positions than previous presidents have. But this is a time of national crisis and such fast action is necessary. If the ideas in the tech platform, like government openness, are serious components of the change, they can’t wait until these positions are filled. They need to be part of the mandate that new cabinet members have to follow as soon as they join.
The latest issue, maybe: A leaked flow-chart of the short-listed names for cabinet positions has been making the rounds in political circles today (see above). The source is unknown — and likely unofficial, if not inaccurate — but it corresponds to many news reports about who might get what big government job. The proposed secretaries of the Treasury mentioned in it include Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, for example, names that match numerous news reports.
So, on the off-chance this document really is Obama’s plan, seeing it is depressing for those of us who think technology innovation has been and will continue to be the key to this country’s prosperity.
The document is full of big political celebrities for big bureaucracies: Al Gore in a new position called “Climate ‘Czar'”, Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to the United Nations, Howard Dean for the Department of Health and Human Services , etc….
Not even a mention of a CTO position, and where it might fit in. Not even potential candidates for the position of Under-Secretary for Science & Technology (which, sadly, has been a backwater of a post in past administrations). Meanwhile, there’s been no news of bold reorganizing around technology, no intentional leaks about who might be the new CTO — as opposed to what has been happening around the Treasury job, for instance.
I was hoping for a bolder focus on technology versus bureaucracy. If the administration isn’t redefined from the outset, I have to wonder if it ever will be. Instead, bureaucratic inertia and turf wars will likely set in.
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