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DorobekInsider.com: Does the government need a CTO?

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One of the big debates ongoing in the government IT community surrounds the proposal from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to create a federal chief technology officer. (You can read Obama’s technology plan here.)

On Federal News Radio’s mid-day show, InDepth with Francis Rose, on Friday, they had two former CIOs — Roger Baker, the former Commerce Department CIO and Ed Meagher, the former Interior deputy CIO, now with SRA — on the show to debate the issue. (Hear the full interview here. .mp3) Baker gives the idea a thumbs up — he believes the position would give the government a more strategic view of technology — while Meagher gave it a maybe and said there needs to be more details.

There was a fascinating piece in the most recent issue of Technology Review, published by MIT, that featured a interview with Mitch Kapor, who headed Lotus Development, which created the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. The story has a simple headline: Does the U.S. Need a CTO?: Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of personal computing, says the position is vital given the growing importance of technology. The interview makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately Kapor still didn’t offer any more details.

Mitch Kapor likes beginnings. In 1982, he founded Lotus Development, which made the popular spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3. In 1990, he cofounded the ­Electronic Frontier Foundation, a political­-­advocacy and legal organization that champions free speech and privacy. And in 2003, he became the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation, which is responsible for the open-source Web browser Firefox. Today, Kapor sits on the boards of such companies as ­Linden Research, and he heads his eponymous foundation, which provides grants to San Francisco Bay Area organizations working with low-income communities on educational and environmental issues.

Last fall, Kapor was called upon to help Senator Barack Obama define his technology positions. Kapor suggested that Obama, if elected president, should install a federal chief tech­nology officer. Conservatives grumbled at the idea of another layer of bureaucracy, but Kapor and others in Silicon Valley say the government needs cohesive technology practices and policies.

It is easy to get wrapped around the sympatic question of whether this CTO would just be a glorified federal CIO, or whether it would decrease the impact of government CIOs, which I think would be disappointing.

Both the Federal News Radio and the interview are interesting — and the subject deserves more attention.

Written by cdorobek

September 21, 2008 at 9:04 PM

One Response

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  1. […] Amy Morris, we’re going to talk to Roger Baker, the former Commerce Department CIO. (Baker was on Federal News Radio’s InDepth program last month talking about the concept of a CTO. It is worth a listen.) Possibly related posts: (automatically […]


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