Government is not unlike a major company. Like chief executive officers and other executives, government officials are appointed to help the country, their “business,” run smoothly and grow economically. It would seem essential, then, that one of the most powerful and most technologically advanced countries in the world would have a chief technology officer to manage its government’s current technology efforts and explore new ones. But surprisingly, no such position has existed in the United States, until now.
President Barack Obama recently appointed Aneesh Chopra as the nation’s first CTO, a position that will come as no easy task for Chopra but one that he’s well prepared for. According to a White House briefing on the federal CTO’s responsibilities, Chopra’s job will be to leverage American ingenuity and new technologies as engines for job creation and economic growth. The CTO’s priorities will include expanded use of technology to boost broadband access, reduce health-care costs, enable novel job-producing industries, remove barriers to technological progress, and create a more transparent and interactive government.
As Virginia’s secretary of technology for the past several years, Chopra has a proven track record of building a better government through technology and social media tools and helping improve local businesses and job opportunities. In fact he’s already met many of his federal responsibilities at his state’s level.
Because of Chopra, Virginia was ranked No. 1 in technology management by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, thanks to such initiatives as a social network that connects health-care clinicians working in small, remote locations and a state-funded venture capital fund that allows government agencies to test new technologies to deliver their services or improve productivity. Virginia also leads the country in terms of deploying high-speed Internet access, thanks to Chopra’s “official goal” to provide every business in the Virginia commonwealth with broadband technology. Chopra’s dedication to building out broadband lines in rural Virginia has attracted high-tech companies to set up offices in those areas and has created many job opportunities.
As a former venture capitalist for tech startups and a health-care IT consultant, Chopra is well-versed in investigating tech opportunities and improving service performance through technology. Chopra seems to constantly have the best interest of businesses in mind and seeks practical ways to put technology to use as opposed to chasing the next greatest thing.
As Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, recently put it, “Our economy increasingly consists of service jobs. Improving the effectiveness of those jobs is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Chopra wants to put technology to work to make us better at health care, at education, at creating a vibrant economy. These are also incidentally the goals of the federal CTO job.”
As Chopra settles into his new role, it will be interesting to see if he can parlay his success at the state level onto the national playing field. But one thing is for sure: Business owners can expect Chopra to implement technologies that not only benefit government agencies but also U.S. businesses, big and small.