Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Federal Chief Technology Officer in the Obama Administration: Options and Issues for Consideration

John F. Sargent Jr.
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

In November 2007, Senator Barack Obama announced his intention, if elected president, to appoint a federal chief technology officer (CTO). He also identified several specific areas of responsibility of the CTO including transparency of government operations, computer and network security (sometimes referred to as cybersecurity), identification and adoption of best technologies and practices by federal agencies, and interoperability of emergency communications technologies for first responders.

On April 18, 2009, President Obama appointed Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh P. Chopra to serve in the newly created position of federal chief technology officer. In announcing the appointment, the president indicated that Mr. Chopra would undertake roles beyond what might be considered traditional CTO responsibilities. As the president described them, these roles include promoting technological innovation to help the United States create jobs, reduce health care costs, protect the homeland, and address other national goals. Mr. Chopra serves as assistant to the president and chief technology officer, as well as associate director for technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Under a provision of Executive Order 13500, issued on February 5, 2009, he also serves as a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council in his capacity as assistant to the president and CTO.

The CTO may face a variety of challenges in executing the mission envisioned by the President. Among the early challenges will be negotiating domains of responsibilities within the White House and with executive branch agencies that have overlapping missions. Some commentators have expressed concerns about the impact the creation of a CTO might have on existing offices and agencies with respect to the allocation and coordination of authorities and responsibilities. Other commentators have asserted that a high-level CTO could serve as an advocate for technological innovation and foster increased knowledge sharing among federal agencies to more effectively implement information technology solutions to meet disparate mission requirements. Mr. Chopra's appointment as both CTO and associate director for technology at OSTP may address, in part, questions related to mission alignment, coordination, and integration. Since assuming his dual roles, Mr. Chopra has publicly engaged in discussions covering a wide range of technology policy-related areas, including research and development, innovation, open government, government performance, education, science and engineering workforce, health care information technology, broadband, patent reform, and net neutrality.

Congress faces President Obama's appointment of Mr. Chopra and the president's stated plans for the federal CTO. There is currently no formal position description for the CTO. Accordingly, the official duties of the CTO remain largely undefined. Congress may elect to provide a statutory foundation for the CTO, define the roles and authorities of the CTO, authorize and appropriate funds, provide for oversight, and address other aspects of the position.

Date of Report: June 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R40150
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.