When President Obama decided to have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the position is not permanent. At the moment, should his successor opt not to appoint one, the CTO position would cease to exist.
Since 2009, there have been two bills introduced to put the CTO position into law. The bills, had either passed, would have put into law the specific requirements of the position, and establish a separate office for the CTO. While this would make the position last longer than a single presidential administration, it would also remove a flexibility with the position that is reflected in the backgrounds and portfolios of the three CTO’s appointed by the Obama Administration.
The bills essentially make the CTO position into the head of information technology purchasing and implementation in the government. That’s an important function, but there already is a federal chief information officer. Ideally, at least from where I type, the CTO would be on par with the President’s chief science adviser. Focusing the position on information technology runs the risk of making the job the government’s tech support, instead of a position focused on how to utilize all kinds of technology to support the government and serve the public.
There is now a third bill attempting to formalize the CTO position. While the first two were sponsored by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia), the latest bill is sponsored by Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia), and co-sponsored by members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where Loudermilk serves as chair of the Oversight Subcommittee. The House Science Committee was not involved with the previous bills, which were considered by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The newest bill has been referred to both committees for consideration
The latest bill makes the CTO position optional, but would require any CTO appointment to also serve as the Associate Director for Technology and Innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (The first CTO in the Obama Administration, Aneesh Chopra, served in both positions. His successors did not.) The bill does focus the CTO position on information technology responsibilities, but it does think a bit more broadly than IT. The CTO would also handle information exchange between the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the public; agency records transparency; and technological interoperability.
I appreciate the greater breadth of portfolio in this bill, but I’d rather not see the CTO subsumed by the OSTP. An equal partner is more to my liking, but your mileage may vary. I don’t expect this bill to have a better fate than its predecessors, but it’s certainly not to soon to see what President Obama’s successors might do about a CTO. Where does your candidate stand on the issue?