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Here’s What the White House’s First Chief Data Scientist Will Do

Flickr user Hubert Burda Media

In 2012, an article in the Harvard Business Review proclaimed data scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century.”

The White House got the message loud and clear.

Not only is the Obama administration hiring its first federal chief data scientist, it’s hiring the man widely credited with coining the term “data scientist” and the author of that 2012 piece: DJ Patil.

Nextgov first learned of Patil’s new gig weeks ago, when former White House counselor John Podesta let the new hire slip during a conference call with reporters on the administration’s big data efforts. See our story here.

Now, the White House is providing more details about the projects its first chief data scientist will work on.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith officially announced Patil’s hiring Wednesday. Patil -- a Silicon Valley alumni of Salesforce subsidiary RelateIQ, LinkedIn and PayPal -- will also serve as deputy CTO under Smith in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As the administration’s top data guru, Patil’s marching orders include working on the Obama administration’s “Precision Medicine Initiative,” a $215 million project that aims to provide more effective medical treatments specifically tailored to patients’ genetic makeup.

Patil will also “will help shape policies and practices to help the U.S. remain a leader in technology and innovation, foster partnerships to help responsibly maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data and help to recruit and retain the best minds in data science to join us in serving the public,” Smith said in a White House blog post.

It won’t be Patil’s first stint in government. Before his private-sector career took off, Patil worked on a Defense Department project, “where he directed new efforts to bridge computational and social sciences in fields like social network analysis to help anticipate emerging threats to the United States,” Smith said in the blog post.

Patil has a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland at College Park and bachelor’s degree from the University of California at San Diego.

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