Former colleagues laud new White House deputy CTO for innovation

People who have worked with Chris Vein, the new deputy chief technology officer for government innovation, say he is an innovator well-suited for the position.

Most recently Vein was chief information officer and executive director of the technology department for the City and County of San Francisco, the 12th largest city in the country. He was the brains behind DataSF, a clearinghouse for sharing city data with the public, which is similar to at the federal level.

Colleagues believe he will help the White House implement its lofty open government goals. The day after taking the oath of office, President Obama called for agencies to institutionalize public participation in policymaking and collaboration with outside organizations.

"[Vein] thinks outside the box and doesn't let the typical government kind of restrictions or lack of resources, such as funding" get in the way, said Ron Vinson, who was hired by Vein to serve as director of media for San Francisco's technology department. "He thinks of innovative ways to do more with less."

Vinson said his former boss leads by example. When city officials slashed budgets and moved to shared printers, Vein was the first to get rid of his personal printer; when they discontinued benefits that paid for employees' cell phones, Vein was the first to turn his in, Vinson said.

Vein worked in the White House from 1987 to 1993 as a financial officer and director of administrative and financial services, according to his LinkedIn page. "I think he's very prudent [dealing with] finance," Vinson said. "He does have a financial background, which is a very big plus when it comes to trying to sell IT initiatives."

Andrew Hoppin, chief information officer of the New York State Senate, said Vein has a vision for how governments can help each other.

"He's actually been there in the trenches at a local level implementating [projects] in a tough environment with falling budgets and public employee union problems," Hoppin said. "The fact that he experienced that and [was] able to overcome it and deliver innovation in San Francisco," will help him in his new role.

Vein will replace Beth Noveck, a lawyer and academic who stepped down as deputy CTO in early January to teach at New York Law School. Hoppin, who with Vein serves on the board of Civic Commons, an advocacy group that facilitates IT infrastructure sharing among state and local governments, said Vein is a next great step after Noveck, who has an academic background and crafted many of the open government policies.

There are two phases for open government initiatives, Hoppin said: "One is conceiving and creating policy, the next step is executing . . . I think we're in an execution phase."