Obama Taps DC-Area Tech Leader as First US CTO

President Barack Obama has rounded out his panel of high-tech advisors, naming Aneesh Chopra, the state of Virginia’s secretary of technology, as the chief technology officer of the U.S. While not having the heft of a cabinet-level appointment, the newly created position is still seen as pivotal to many of the Obama administration’s initiatives.

Obama said in his Saturday radio address that Chopra’s focus will be on streamlining healthcare costs through better deployment of technology and on addressing cybersecurity issues. The position requires Senate approval.

His background suggests Chopra has the credentials to execute on 30,000-foot strategies. During his tenure as Virginia’s CTO he focused on operational issues as well as promoting the state’s IT economic development. Before he worked for the state, Chopra was managing director of the Advisory Board Company, heading its Financial Leadership Council and the Working Council for Health Plan Executives.

Chopra, who will also serve as the associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, joins Vivek Kundra, formerly the CTO of Washington, D.C., on the Obama team. Kundra is the first federal CIO. His position appears to be more far-reaching than Chopra’s, although there will likely be some overlap. Kundra has been charged with overseeing tech investments and tech spending in the government.

Industry Groups Applaud

Initial reaction from the tech community has been favorable — even though both Chopra and Kundra were plucked from government operations in the D.C. area instead of from Silicon Valley’s leading-edge private sector.

Chopra’s “record of being unafraid to experiment and push government to better serve citizens bodes well for his performance in facing difficult challenges and great opportunities,” notes Alan Davidson, director of government relations and public policy at Google, in a blog post.

His comments are telling, given that Google CEO Eric Schmidt was among those rumored to be considered for the position.

“As Virginia’s technology czar Aneesh has been relentless in applying technology to make government work better for citizens — from requiring state government agencies to make their sites more crawlable, to integrating iTunes with the state’s educational system,” Davidson wrote.

The Message

Indeed, the larger point the tech community appears to be absorbing is the fact that there are two high-level positions devoted to technology, which will impact both government operations and U.S. economic developments.

“As the first president to appoint a chief technology officer, President Obama sends a clear message that he and his administration embrace the 21st Century,” Raymond Van Dyke, a partner with Merchant & Gould, told TechNewsWorld.

“The President’s pick of technologist Aneesh Chopra shows Obama’s prioritization on overall governmental efficiencies — in key areas of healthcare and broadband, Chopra’s areas of expertise,” added Van Dyke.

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