Narrowing the Obama CTO list — one big name comes off
We’re all following the speculation about who will be the Obama chief technology officer. Well, the list is being winnowed — one of the big names is taking another job. Julius Genachowski, who has been a senior technology adviser — in fact, the man credited with Obama’s technology agneda, including the CTO post — will reportedly be named by President-elect Barack Obama will name Genachowski to be the chairman of the Federal Comunications Commission.
The WSJ.com broke the story about Genachowski this morning:
President-elect Barack Obama intends to nominate his technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, to head the Federal Communications Commission, a Democratic source close to the Obama transition team said.
Mr. Genachowski, 46 years old, is a former Harvard Law School classmate of Mr. Obama. He previously worked at the FCC during the Clinton administration. More recently, he co-founded LaunchBox Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm. He worked at Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActive Corp. in various executive positions for eight years after leaving the FCC.
Genachowski helped draft Obama’s technology plan, which includes support for creating more widespread and affordable Internet access, and more diverse media ownership rules. He was long thought to be on the short list of candidates to head the FCC.
Genachowski was also thought to be one of the top candidates to fill Obama’s planned chief technology officer position. That position, a novelty for the government, involves as-yet unspecified duties. It’s widely thought that other candidates for the CTO job could include current members of Obama’s technology team, including former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin, and Sonal Shah, of Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org. Candidates for the CTO position have also been thought to include Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. Schmidt has publicly indicated that he isn’t interested in leaving Google.
The FCC, which oversees the sprawling networks and airwaves used to provide access to the Internet, television and radio, is poised to see a host of challenges in the near future.
The move removes one of the most often mentioned names on the Obama CTO list… and many insiders speculate that it could clear the path for DC CTO Vivek Kundra — one of the CJD favs. (James Rogers on TheStreet.com called Kundra “a relative unknown” — part of the ongoing touting of big names like Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Eric Schmidt, or Microsoft’s Steve Balmer. As I said earlier, I actually think those tech luminaries would be very frustrated in what is essentially a government job — a high-level, high-profile government job, but… it’s a government job… and I mean that in the best sense. You need somebody who knows how government works and can get something done. My ongoing joke is that Balmer’s head will actually explode when he’s told about the government’s budgeting process.)
As you might imagine, Genachowski’s “shares” on Matthew Burns’ Obama CTO prediction market plumeted this morning… Essentially ‘none of the above’ was in the lead when I last checked.
After the break, more Obama CTO readings.
Two pieces I wanted to draw to your attention. This one from the Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich headlined The Federal CTO Wishlist :
Obama’s promise to appoint a federal CTO has created a frenzy of speculation, especially among those concerned with privacy, security, government management, intellectual property, national Internet policy, and many others, including the transparency community. The discussion has become a Rorschach test of sorts, leading civic advocates of all kinds to project their priorities onto the soon-to-be established office.
Here’s what we’ll be looking for:
President-elect Barack Obama has promised to appoint the world’s first governmental Chief Technology Officer (CTO). On its transition Web site, http://www.change.gov, the incoming Administration has published a list of goals for the soon-to-be anointed CTO: broadband expansion, boosting science/tech education, health-care computerization, patent reform, and e-government.
The goals are well-intentioned. What is missing is an effective and efficient strategy. So-called “czars” have been appointed for drugs, the war in Iraq, the financial industry, and the auto sector—none of them have worked very well. The Obama team needs to be careful not to reinvent the wheel, focusing instead on technology lessons from the countries that have overtaken the U.S. already, the practices of companies that have top CTOs, and a flexible strategy for implementing policy across the sprawling federal government.
The U.S. may be the first country to have a CTO. That doesn’t mean other countries have not put in place effective tech leadership. In the past 28 years, Singapore has had six national plans that have progressively modernized the government infrastructure, starting from computerization of civil services to the current “Intelligent Nation 2015″ or iN2015 plan, which in vivid detail envisions a future where every individual and organization has seamless access to technology.
By comparison, Obama’s prosaic wish list is nothing to write home about—but his Administration can learn from Singapore’s phased and segmented approach.
Even tiny countries like Estonia have emerged from years behind the Iron Curtain to quickly create e-government infrastructures that would shame the U.S. bureaucracy today. Indeed, Estonia has become an exemplar of e-government, where everyone votes and pays taxes online, not to mention pays parking tickets via mobile phones. The country’s image as a leader in tech did suffer a blow, however, when Russian cyberwarriors hacked the government’s electronic infrastructure in April 2007, bringing the country to a standstill: Even customers paying for milk and bread in grocery stores suddenly found that their bank cards didn’t work. A deeply interconnected technical network is as valuable as it is vulnerable. Estonia is a valuable case study in how to protect oneself from the susceptibility of technology.