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White House to bestow top tech honors to IT company and inventors

The Obama administration named two information technology developers and one IT company on Thursday to receive the nation's highest honor for inventors.

The administration will award the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to the winners -- five total -- during a White House ceremony on Oct. 7. Traditionally, the White House does not announce the contributions of the winners until close to the ceremony. But, according to IBM, which will receive a medal, the company will be honored for development of its Blue Gene line of supercomputers, which typically are ranked among the fastest and most powerful computers in the world. Two inventors, John Warnock and Charles Geschke, also will be honored for founding the software firm Adobe Systems. Both IT companies have made their mark with tools that the federal government increasingly depends on for collaboration across agencies.

Federal information technology executives view the awards as part of Obama's innovation agenda, an effort to use technology to improve government performance. "I see a lot coming on the innovation agenda. The first sign of that is the appointment of a chief technology officer and a governmentwide chief information officer," said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, a contractor industry group. Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra are filling roles that have never existed at the White House level.

"Of course, Vivek is speaking everywhere to everybody," he added, referring to the CIO's numerous appearances at conferences and on the White House Web site to promote collaborative Web applications aimed at transforming the way the government operates. The tools include Data.gov, a depot of federal statistics that allows third-parties to download and manipulate information to meet customers' needs, and Apps.gov, an online storefront where agencies can purchase subscriptions to Web services or cloud computing applications.

But many of the initiatives have yet to trickle down to the agency level, Chvotkin noted. For example, guidance on President Obama's plan to shift agency IT environments to the Web, or the cloud, will come in the fiscal 2011 budget.

Unlike Kundra, Chopra has yet to publicize his work. "He doesn't say as much about what he's doing out there publicly, but I know he's been actively involved in the internal discussions," Chvotkin said. "If you ask me three things that he's done, I couldn't tell you."

The 2009 technology medal winners have been instrumental in the effort to change how government does business, according to the honorees. IBM's speedy computers model scenarios that help protect the nation's nuclear arsenals and predict climate trends. The company says the Blue Gene systems also are eco-friendly because they perform at processing speeds that otherwise would require a dedicated power plant large enough to supply electricity to thousands of homes.

Warnock and Geschke founded Adobe, a major federal supplier, in 1982. They met in the late 1970s while researching graphic systems and printing at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. To bring their ideas to market, Warnock and Geschke launched a company committed to transforming text and images on a computer screen into exact and attractive print reproductions. The firm released Adobe Portable Document Format, which enabled users to exchange images of digital documents across computing platforms. The format is now the default standard for many government agencies. Federal workers use other Adobe desktop and server products to collaborate with colleagues and the public.

The other two technology honorees are Forrest Bird, who developed mechanical breathing devices, and Esther Sans Takeuchi, who researches micropower sources at the University at Buffalo.

Obama also named nine researchers on Thursday as recipients of the National Medal of Science, which honors scientists and engineers.

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