My first reaction when I heard that Obama wanted to create a national “chief technology officer” (CTO) was a tad on the cynical side. I haven’t progressed much beyond that—-yet.
National CTO? A technology czar, so to speak? To do what, exactly? With what mandate? What budget? What bureaucracy? What programs? Which champions and defenders in which committees on Capitol Hill? Which lobbyists fighting for a slot on your agenda so they can report to their customers that they have access to someone who actually has real influence over policy and legislation that matters to them? You’re nothing in Washington if you don’t have any of that.
So what’s to distinguish a National CTO from an impotent, symbolic, figurehead position, such as, say, U.S. Poet Laureate, doing a perpetual roadshow to showcase the best in US tech prowess and innovation?
Is this national CTO’s primary job going to be promoting digital apple pie causes such as the need for everybody to get connected, achieve some basic Internet literacy, or give kids laptops to help them develop into the next generation of geniuses, and so forth?
Or will the national CTO have something slightly meatier to fill their days, such as convening meetings of federal-agency CTOs in order to disseminate government best practices for service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the like?
Or will the national CTO serve as some sort of policy coordinator driving the Obama administration’s attempts to get its IT-related initiatives implemented in legislation?
We definitely need all of those things. But in the same job? Same person? And what person(s) might be suited to any or all of the above? What conceivable reason might, say, a tech billionaire have to accept such a position, which sounds like a politics-intensive job for a longtime inside-Washington policy wonk with a thick skin and the soul of a lobbyist? Where’s the fun? The glamour? The chance to do something innovative?