Look for Next CTO to 'Execute, Execute, Execute,' Not Come Up With New Concepts

Flickr user JD Lasica

Aneesh Chopra discusses the role of government’s top technology expert.

The first thing on Megan Smith’s to-do list as the third-ever federal chief technology officer should be to implement the plans laid out by her predecessors, according to Aneesh Chopra, who was the first to hold the position.

“We’re in execution mode,” Chopra told Bloomberg TV. “They’re going to take the playbook that my successor Todd Park and his colleagues have put forward -- what we started in the first term -- and they’re going to execute, execute, execute.”

The White House announced Thursday that Smith, an executive at Google’s secretive and ambitious research lab Google X, would be the next federal CTO, joined by former Twitter attorney Alexander Macgillivray as deputy CTO.

The role of government’s top technology expert was created through executive action by President Barack Obama and was first filled in May 2009 by Chopra, who left the federal government in 2012 and has since founded a company called Hunch Analytics.

Chopra was followed by Park, who stepped down last week to move to California, where he will continue working for the White House as a Silicon Valley-based recruiter and liaison to the tech industry.

CTO Still an Undefined Role

Despite efforts by some lawmakers, including Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., to formalize the role of the federal CTO, expand its authority and require it by law, the job has remained somewhat undefined and has been subject to an evolving focus.

Chopra is credited with helping to develop federal policy around such tech initiatives as expanded access to broadband, Internet privacy and opening federal data sets to fuel innovation in the private sector.

Park’s role focused initially on attracting technology talent to join government through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

But after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, the website residents of most states must use to enroll in Obamacare health insurance plans, Park was unexpectedly called in -- and used those recruiting skills to amass a team of technology experts to fix the the site.

Still, Chopra said he saw continuity in the CTO role. “Look back at the role of government as President Obama has identified it,” Chopra told Bloomberg. “He wrote a strategy for American innovation in the first term, which continues to be the roadmap for this role.”

New CTO Will Put Her Stamp on Role

Chopra said the federal CTO ensures the government has the human capital and digital infrastructure to be successful in a global economy.

“What Megan will do is continue to advocate for infrastructure investments that will facilitate innovation for the decades to come,” he said. “I wouldn’t imagine a lot of surprises or new concepts. They’re going to put their stamp on these playbooks and they’re going to make sure we execute with great rigor."

Meanwhile, Macgillivray, Smith’s deputy, was already on the job and tweeting from the White House on Friday: