Aneesh Chopra offers glimpse of his priorities as federal CTO

Chopra plans on using game-changing innovation platforms

Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra provided an early glimpse of his new role, his priorities, and his plans Tuesday, saying he would focus on game-changing innovations.

Chopra, speaking at a government technology conference in Norfolk, Va., in one his first public appearances since being confirmed May 20 as the nation’s new federal CTO, said he was still in the early stages of refining his approach to the new job. But the former CTO of Virginia, speaking at the American Council of Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Management of Change Conference, sketched out his vision for how his duties would unfold and where he’d be concentrating his efforts.

Chopra said his primary focus in his role as CTO would revolve around four themes:

The first would be bringing as much policy rigor as possible in trying to transform the nation’s economy through technology-based innovation. “It will be important to think about how we introduce policy to foster innovation” nationally, as well as across state and jurisdictional boundaries, he said.

Second, he would look for game-changing ways to address the president’s priorities through so-called innovation platforms, or new approaches using technology. He highlighted three areas where he planned to concentrate his thinking:

  • Open standards. “We need the private sector to lead, but we need a culture of open standards,” he said. That doesn’t preclude proprietary standards, he added. But open standards, and applications which could be shared and replicated easily, would remain at the center of efforts to drive innovation.
  • Government research and development. Chopra also envisioned redirecting where the government might focus its research and development commitment. “There’s an emerging debate of how far up the (R&D) food chain we should go,” and whether the government shouldn’t target resources closer to the application stage, he said. He said he would look closely at opportunities “in the middle ground, south of procurement and north of R&D.”
  • Crowd sourcing. Chopra said the government would also continue tap the potential of crowd sourcing, or the use of networks of contributors, to gather new ideas and fuel public-sector innovation.

A third major area of focus for the new CTO would be delivering on the president’s commitment to ensure the nation has a reliable and trustworthy digital infrastructure. Part of that effort would include making broadband more universally available throughout the country, he said, but clearly cybersecurity is a pressing concern.

“We must have platforms for growth, as well as strategies to make sure they are secure,” he said, referring to President Barack Obama’s new cybersecurity initiative, announced May 29.

Chopra directed a specific message to the software development community, saying, “We’re going to have start a dialogue to develop bug-free software or bug-free software development." He cited several examples of data breaches stemming from careless software development.

The last component of his focus, he said, would be to help advance the executive order Obama issued Jan. 21, committing the government to greater transparency, citizen participation and collaboration.

Chopra reiterated the administration’s position on taking a new, more open approach in developing policies, saying the traditional “model is backwards.” Rather that drafting policies first and seeking public response, he said the government would use new interactive technologies to seek broad public input and then begin to craft policy recommendations.

In addition to focusing on policy recommendations and technology innovations that support the president’s priorities around the economy, health care costs and education, he said he would also be looking at tools that could help spur innovation. He suggested one possibility of working with the General Services Administration to develop an “innovation sandbox” where project ideas could be tested and shared across the government.

Chopra said he was still on a listening tour to get up to speed on his new duties and planned to develop a more concrete set of goals to which he said he looked forward to members of the government technology community to hold him accountable.

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