Senators skim over open government during CTO confirmation hearing

Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee members say virtually nothing to nominee Aneesh Chopra during question-and-answer session.

Lawmakers seemed disinterested in President Obama's open government priorities during a Tuesday committee hearing to examine the nomination of Chief Technology Officer-designate Aneesh Chopra, among other commerce-related appointees.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where the first-ever CTO would serve as associate director, is expected to unveil a draft open government directive on Thursday, but no members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee asked Chopra about his plans for the initiative.

Only one senator asked the former Virginia technology secretary anything substantive. Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar's question was whether Chopra would help health care workers treat rural Americans remotely through Web-based technologies. Chopra replied that expanding the practice of telemedicine would create jobs and lower health care costs.

After the hearing, Chopra said he could not comment to reporters on his potential responsibilities, including open government, spurring innovation in the private sector and nationwide adoption of compatible electronic health records, until confirmed. But he said citizens "will be very excited" with what transpires on Thursday. One of Obama's first presidential memos, released on Jan. 21, ordered the CTO, in conjunction with all agency heads, to meet a deadline of May 21 for delivering suggestions on how to build a more transparent, collaborative and participatory government.

"I won't be [presenting the recommendations] because I'm not confirmed," Chopra said.

His testimony briefly alluded to the open government memo: "We need to build on the president's vision for a 21st century government, one that builds on his core principles of transparency, participation and collaboration."

Chopra added that, if confirmed, he would apply the most cutting-edge technologies to "bending the health care cost curve," reducing dependence on foreign oil, creating jobs, and "delivering an educational system focused on student excellence with special emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., did not have any questions for the nominee but commended his past work for Virginia. During Warner's term as Virginia governor, he appointed Chopra to several boards, including the Southern Technology Council, the Board of Medical Assistance Services and the Electronic Health Records Task Force.

Warner did not ask about open government policies because "he wanted each nominee to have an opportunity to speak, he has been friends with Mr. Chopra for 10 years and he has held countless conversations with him about using technology to make government more accessible and accountable," said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the senator.

Transportation questions dominated the relatively brief hearing, given concerns about airline safety. Separately on Tuesday, panel members requested a federal investigation into inadequate pilot training and fatigue that may have contributed to the fatal crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y, in February. During the hearing, lawmakers reviewed the nominations for deputy secretary of the Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration administrator.

The senators urged the nominees to move quickly on executing the NextGen air traffic modernization program intended to maximize air space for an anticipated uptick in traffic.

The committee could vote on the nominations as early as Wednesday at a public meeting.