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More on the Federal CTO

The Federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) position to be created by the Obama administration has been on the radar of government information specialists for some time (check out Chella Vaidyanathan’s recent comments on one of the high profile candidates, Vivek Kundra). Via Mark Drapeau’s Twitter stream, take a look at a recent CRS report on the new position.

The report reviews the history of the CIO Council established by President Clinton in 1996, and discusses the similarly widespread nature of CTO responsibilities throughout federal agencies.

Among the early challenges a CTO may face are defining and communicating the roles of the position; identifying and recruiting talent, from both inside and outside of government; and negotiating domains of responsibilities, formal and informal, within the White House (if that is where the Obama Administration or Congress decides to establish a CTO) and with executive branch agencies that have overlapping missions. Beyond these initial challenges, a CTO would need to establish goals and milestones, set priorities, secure resources, and develop and execute a strategy. If the position or office of a CTO is not established by Congress and provided with statutory authorities and a dedicated budget, it may be difficult for a CTO to affect change in individual federal agencies or systemically throughout the federal government. In such a case, the efficacy of a CTO may depend largely on the mandate provided by President Obama to a CTO (and agencies’ perception of the mandate), the imprimatur of the White House, and the personal attributes of a CTO (e.g., relationship with the President, past accomplishments, knowledge, professional reputation, persuasiveness).

Perhaps one of the most difficult and enduring challenges a CTO may face would be “turf wars” associated with overlapping responsibilities with other executive agencies and their principals on issues such as technology and innovation policy, computer and network security, and intellectual property enforcement…

When the plan for the CTO position is finalized, it may benefit the government information community to develop a message and a means to share it with the CTO in a way that is tailored to the powers and capabilities of the position. Our concerns about transparency certainly complement the stated concerns of the new administration, and while the new CTO may be hearing messages from throughout the government, our message deserves to be heard.

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