Aneesh Chopra Named Federal CTO

Aneesh Chopra, Federal CTO

Aneesh Chopra, Federal CTO

After high expectations, much anticipation and speculation, on April 18, 2009, President Obama named Aneesh Paul Chopra the first-ever Federal Chief Technology Officer.

I’m sure many of us are thinking, “Déjà vu? Didn’t President Obama already appoint an IT chief in March?” Yes, Vivek Kundra is the nation’s CIO whereas Aneesh Chorpa will serve as the nation’s CTO. Here’s what the White House said:

As Chief Technology Officer, Chopra will promote technological innovation to help the country meet its goals from job creation, to reducing health care costs, to protecting the homeland. Together with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, they will help give all Americans a government that is effective, efficient, and transparent.

Tim O’Reilly, in his excellent article Why Aneesh Chopra is a Great Choice for Federal CTO, dug a little deeper to learn from the White House that:

The responsibilities of the CIO are to use information technology to transform the ways in which the government does business. The CTO will develop national strategies for using advanced technologies to transform our economy and our society, such as fostering private sector innovation, reducing administrative costs and medical errors using health IT, and using technology to change the way teachers teach and students learn.

Low Profile, High Impact?

In his previous role as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, his focus was to “leverage technology in government reform, [promote] Virginia’s innovation agenda, and [foster] technology-related economic development with a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.” Chopra was recently recognized by Government Technology Magazine for “[setting] the standard for using technology to improve government”, and he was awarded Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s 2007 State Leadership Advocacy Award.

So what’s his approach?

Sean Garrett did the heavy lifting in his thorough article, Aneesh Chopra: National CTO, sharing what he’s learned about the 36-year-old Chopra:

I highly recommend watching a good portion of the video below. It’s from this year’s Congressional Internet Caucus conference in January.

Some speech highlights:
3:50: Open government
11:10: Discovering/searching for govt data
16:00: Open stem education
19:50: A very cool “open textbook” program
22:30: “The iPhone is my life”
24:00: Health care IT
35.15: Broadband policy
44:00: Open education (Q&A)

Chopra may not be a Valley guy, but Silicon Valley is going to like him a lot. He’s energetic, insightful and can speak the language (again, watch the video). He’s no bureaucrat.

And, just because you didn’t previously work for a chip company or an Internet start-up doesn’t mean that you “are not a tech guy” as I just read on another blog. Chopra spent a bulk of his career seeing technology in action (for better or worse) in his work in the health care industry and knew that it could and should do better to bring change to the massive sector.

So far, Micah Sifry at TechPresident has the best wrap up on Chopra’s relevant experience:

A few quick observations about this choice. First, it looks like very good news for the transparency movement, as well as those of us looking for an open-minded leader willing to experiment with new forms of collaborative governance. For example, back in early 2007, under Chopra’s leadership, Virginia was one of the first states to move, with Google’s help, to make its state websites more searchable and thus more accessible to ordinary citizens. The state has also been in the forefront of efforts to create robust web services tracking the giant government stimulus spending package enacted by Obama, and as fed-watcher Christopher Dorobek points out, Chopra is well aware of and supportive of citizen-led watchdog efforts like Jerry Brito’s StimulusWatch.org.

Under Chopra (and it must be mentioned, his boss Governor Tim Kaine), the state also launched a highly interactive website that collected more than 9000 suggestions from residents on how the stimulus monies might be spent. “Relative to calls and letters, it’s fairly safe to say this is probably a tenfold increase in civic participation by allowing people to click on a button, submit their ideas and engage with their governor,” Chopra told a local paper back in March.

Finally, like his soon-to-again-be-colleague Vivek Kundra, Obama’s Chief Information Officer, who also came out of Virginia before serving as DC’s CTO, Chopra is willing to try new ways to innovate government processes, inspired by the open and lateral networking development culture of the internet. Governing Magazine calls him a “Venture Governmentalist,” specifically citing “a small but intriguing experiment in Virginia that aims to bring the high-risk, high-reward ethic of venture investing to state government.” Last year, Chopra invested $2 million in about a dozen small internal agency tech projects with potential to pay big returns in terms of productivity. “More important, and more unusual for the bureaucrats,” says Governing, “he gives them permission to fail. You can’t innovate, Chopra tells them, without taking a gamble every now and then.” He adds, “We need to fundamentally change the culture of government in which change is measured in budget cycles to one in which change is measured in weeks or months.” Who can argue with that?

Technology Industry Reaction

According to the Wall Street Journal’s article, Tech Industry Cheers as Obama Taps Aneesh Chopra for CTO:

Silicon Valley execs and tech bloggers sounded genuinely excited about Obama’s choice Saturday morning and tech industry lobbying groups TechNet and the Business Software Alliance quickly released statements of support, as did several tech heavyweights.

“Aneesh’s experience as Virginia’s secretary of technology and that state’s CTO has provided highly relevant preparation for this new role, and I am confident he will be a major asset to the Administration,” said Mitch Kapor, the Lotus Development Corp. founder who said he got to know Chopra during the campaign.

“If you want innovation, change and high performance — in any organization — the CTO role is crucial. Aneesh is an inspired appointment. His smarts and experience in technology, health care and investing will serve us well,” said John Doerr, of VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in a statement.

“Aneesh built one of the best technology platforms in government in the state of Virginia,” said Google’s Mr. Schmidt, in a statement. (It’s worth noting that the State of Virginia contracts with Google and uses its services extensively on the state’s Web sites).

I am very encouraged by Aneesh Chopra’s appointment as the nation’s first CTO. His ideas for Healthcare IT innovation, expanding educational opportunities, and “Venture Governmentalist” approach make him a game-changer well worth the wait.

Do you agree? Is America moving in the right direction with government reform, innovation and transparency?

Be Sociable, Share!