Under President Barack Obama, chief innovation officers were starting to proliferate in the federal government. Though it's unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump will continue to dedicate top positions to creative problem-solving, innovation-related job titles could signal to tech companies that the federal government is interested in cutting-edge technology, according to one trade group.
Nextgov chatted with David Logsdon, a senior director of public advocacy within the CompTIA trade association. This conversation, part of a Nextgov series on chief innovation officers in the federal government, has been edited for length and clarity.
Nextgov: What does the presence or absence of federal chief innovation officers mean for tech contractors?
David Logsdon: It's all how that position is defined and whether that position is within a specific agency. If it's on the edges, it's not going to be effective. If it’s part of the agency mainstream, and if the innovation is core to the agency's mission, then there is relevance.
This position should have direct influence on policy, the technology portfolio for the agency, and have a clear understanding ... [of] what the competencies are. Also [should] have expertise on the procurement and ... the agency's workforce, and by that, an understanding of where the agency is in terms of culture and why culture change might be accepted. If there’s a sense of sustainability within the agency in that context ... [it shows they're] more willing to be risk tolerant.
Nextgov: Are most chief innovation officers you meet focused on technological change instead of process change?
Logsdon: Whether it’s the chief innovation officer, [chief technology officer, chief information officer, chief digital officer] ... every agency has not figured out exactly what that emerging technology role is. We’re still in a growing stage, but technology is now having a direct impact on economic and national security.
Nextgov: Do you expect the Trump administration to replace innovation-related positions in the federal government?
Logsdon: If you try to equate technology advancement with "Making America Great Again" in American competitiveness—if they make that connection. From the limited signals that I’ve received, I think they are getting that connection. From the few people I know on the transition team, they do understand the critical importance of technology for economic and national security.
Nextgov: What's the best example of innovation at the federal level?
Logsdon: Though they don't have a chief innovation officer per se, the agency that clearly stands out is NASA. Renee [Wynn, CIO] is getting NASA in tip top shape in terms of IT and technology and what that means to the mission, and then across the mission directorates.
Nextgov: What's the sentiment at CompTIA? Are your members preparing for an uptick in business under the Trump administration?
Logsdon: They're hoping that there is a big infrastructure stimulus package ... where technology is embedded into our nation's infrastructure. Not just transportation—bridges, airports, roads; it's also water, public utilities.
I've started ... an effort on Capitol Hill to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment. Back in the day, it had 140 employees, a budget line item of $20 million. We're working to bring the office back to be laser-focused on two specific areas: cyber and new emerging technology.