Federal CTO: Government Should Take an Active Role in Innovation

United States CTO Megan Smith

United States CTO Megan Smith Flickr user Internet Education Foundation

On Monday, Megan Smith talked White House digital innovation during the second annual LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C.

Federal Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith wants the government to stop being so parental.

Instead of having an overseer's role, it should become a stage, providing the necessary safety nets and resources as well as the space for vital plays of innovation to perform, said Smith, who is about to start her second year in government after leaving Google.

Doing so, could "really let Americans do the extraordinary things that we always have done for all history and get us all interconnected into that,” Smith said Monday at the White House’s second annual LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit, held in Washington, D.C.

Despite recently adding about 140 private sector innovators from such companies as Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox, the federal government’s tech scene is still lacking, Smith said.

“How can we have much better advanced websites in tech on behalf of the American people?" she asked the summit audience. “If we can make Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, why can’t we make great stuff for the IRS and for the veterans?”

Smith said one explanation for the dichotomy has to do with the placement of the federal government’s tech personnel. Oftentimes, they are buried within teams and are left out of an agency’s most senior positions, she said.

The summit brought together members of the LGBTQ technology community so they could work together to solve some of the challenges today’s Americans face.

But why was the event geared around LGBTQ techies, specifically?

“Because of our identity, we’re just natural innovators,” said Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians who Tech, during the White House event. “We’re natural outside-the-box thinkers, and we have a unique perspective.”

Participants were asked to focus on issues related to economic inclusion, criminal justice reform and climate -- although there was an "other" category included as well.

For example, it can often be a challenge for entities to locate tech talent, especially when some of the most brilliant members of the field have boot camp experience instead of degrees, said one participant from Intel. He suggested forming a pipeline leading from boot camps to apprenticeship programs, to simplify this process.

Participants were asked to create a three-month plan for their projects. At the end of the three months, members from each group will be expected to present at a White House Google Hangout.