As Todd Park Becomes Top Tech Recruiter, What's Next for CTO Role?

Todd Park, the soon-to-be former U.S. chief technology officer

Todd Park, the soon-to-be former U.S. chief technology officer J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Park’s departure leaves a job opening in Washington -- one with unclear requirements.

When Todd Park was asked in 2009 to become the Department of Health and Human Services' first chief technology officer, he wasn’t looking for a government job.

He had already co-founded two successful -- and now publicly traded, though he divested -- health care companies and was finally looking at a life with more time for his family in California. But the job -- all about opening troves of federal health data to the public -- sounded amazing to him, and after a few days of thinking about it, he and his wife saw the opportunity as a national duty.

Park may have thought his term as federal CTO would also be about opening data, but actually his and his family’s initial reluctance to move to Washington may be the more telling aspect of his early days. They were eventually convinced to make some sacrifices for the opportunity to be of service to the country, and Park has since managed to convince throngs of the best technology workers to do the same.

The Obama administration announced Thursday that in his new role working for the White House from Silicon Valley, Park will continue his recruiting efforts and keep policy officials in touch with tech world developments and trends.

Park's Lead Role in HealthCare.gov Fix

Park became the second-ever federal CTO in March 2012. His predecessor, Aneesh Chopra, had been appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, who was honoring a campaign promise to create the position.

The precise role of the federal CTO was evolving. About six months after he started the job, Park announced the first class of Presidential Innovation Fellows -- 18 tech-savvy entrepreneurs selected from about 700 applicants -- who would tackle some of government’s most perplexing problems. Park dubbed them “bad-ass innovators.”

Unexpectedly, in late 2013, Park was brought in to help build the team that would save HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare website that proved essentially unusable when it launched last October. Innovation fellows also joined that team, as did Mikey Dickerson, a Google engineer who was tapped this month to head up the new U.S. Digital Service and who represents the kind of talent the White House hopes Park can continue to attract to government.

When House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed Park in November 2013 to testify about the then-still-troubled HealthCare.gov website after accusing him in an interview of engaging in “a pattern of interference and false statements,” Democrats came quickly to his defense.

Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerry Connolly of Virginia requested unsuccessfully that Issa withdraw the subpoena. “The evidence before our committee demonstrates that Mr. Park is an honest and exemplary public servant, and your unsubstantiated public attacks against his integrity are a deficient basis on which to justify a subpoena against him,” they said.

The subpoena also inspired a few former innovation fellows to create the website LetToddWork.org. “Now, instead of continuing to fix Healthcare.gov (a mess he did not make), Mr. Park has to spend his hours preparing for his testimony,” the site said. 

The efforts were unsuccessful, and he was still compelled to testify under rigorous questioning by Issa. But Park managed to use the appearance as an opportunity to detail the progress that had already been made on the health care website.

He has, for the most part, escaped blame for the failed rollout of HealthCare.gov. Park worked on the site directly as HHS’ top technologist when it was in its very preliminary stages. But he had limited involvement in its development, returning only after the rocky launch to clean up the mess.

“As a public servant, Todd’s most high-profile success story is, and will likely remain, his work to fix HealthCare.gov,” Connolly recently told Nextgov. “Yet, with respect to Todd’s legacy as U.S. CTO, my own view is that his leadership in establishing the Presidential Innovation Fellows program may prove to be his most important and lasting initiative.”

Presidential Innovation Fellows: Park’s Real Legacy?

After the HealthCare.gov fiasco, 11 former innovation fellows were among 15 initial employees to form 18F, a digital services division within the General Services Administration that aims to run more like a startup -- fast and lean. 18F currently encompasses the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

Park frequently is credited for the success of 18F as well as the fellowship program, which benefited both from his known track record and respect in the private sector as well as the status of the White House-based CTO position.

“This isn’t GSA’s fault, because it is what it is,” said one observer who requested anonymity to speak frankly about government. “But look, there’s no kid out there who grows up dreaming of working for GSA. But working for the president of the United States actually sounds cool.”

Indeed, Park surrounded himself with some of the brightest technology thinkers around, including women in key leadership roles in an office that previously had none.

“If you look at the amount of technical talent that the federal government had available to it before Todd Park and today, it’s night and day,” said former innovation Clay Johnson, who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Adam Dole, another former fellow who now works at a health care company he co-founded called Better, agreed.

“There is an army of extremely talented people in the federal government that are there because of him and he set that foundation and has now set that as the default expectation for people coming into government," he said.

The sentiment was echoed this week by Obama himself: "I thank Todd for his service as my chief technology officer and look forward to his continuing to help us deploy the best people and ideas from the tech community in service of the American people."

Is the CTO Role Still Relevant?

To the extent his work as CTO has centered on recruitment, it makes sense Park would continue that role from California and the life his wife was never eager to leave in the first place.

“She gave me one final hall pass for this position,” Park told Fast Company in a 2012 interview shortly after he became federal CTO. “But she said, 'You can choose to stay for longer than that, but I will divorce you.' She said it in a way that wasn't hysterical; she wasn't viscerally angry, which made it all the more serious. Like, 'The sun will rise in the morning; it will set in the evening; and if you stay any longer in D.C. than you have to, I will divorce you.’”

Park’s departure leaves a job opening in Washington -- one with unclear requirements. If Chopra, the first federal CTO, had the president’s ear on policy matters, and Park’s role proved more about drawing people, ideas and attitudes from the private sector, it’s anyone’s guess where the next top technologist will take the office.

Obama created the federal CTO position within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy by an executive action on his first day in office. Connolly and others have sought to expand the job’s powers and require it statutorily -- so far, unsuccessfully. Former fellow Johnson wonders if the position is even necessary anymore.

“Do we still need the role of CTO anymore?” he asked. “I’m not sure that we do. I think what we really need to do is hire better CIOs,” he said, referring to chief information officers.

If the top technology job is anything like technology itself, reassessing and taking stock every few years to address changing circumstances and capabilities may just be the federal CTO position's lot.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.