On Monday the White House announced that Dr. Ed Felten, a computer scientist who has served as the Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, would rejoin the Obama Administration as a Deputy Chief Technology Officer (CTO). He becomes the fourth Deputy CTO in the, along with Alex Macgillivray, Ryan Panchadsaram, and D.J. Patil. Patil’s title is Deputy CTO for Data Policy and he also holds the title of Chief Data scientist.
(Disclosure – I have worked with Felten in our respective capacities at the Association for Computing Machinery, where he is a Fellow and a member of the Associations U.S. Public Policy Council.)
While Patil’s policy responsibilities are still emerging, he is the only one of the four Deputy CTOs for whom I can find specific responsibilities. While I appreciate the need for flexibility when trying to support technology and innovation policy, I find the absence of specific portfolios a bit curious. Each of the Deputy CTOs has different backgrounds and experiences, so it makes sense for each of them to focus on different areas. It would be nice to know if that was the case or not.
The continued expansion of the CTO’s Office reminds me again of how it does (or does not) fit within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The CTO’s Office is separate from the Technology and Innovation Division (where the policy responsibilities are much more explicit). But if the mission of the CTO is sufficiently distinct from that of the Technology and Innovation Division, and the Administration is not keen on having the CTO also lead the Technology and Innovation Division, perhaps it would be better for the Office to be separate from OSTP entirely?
Readers may remember my preference on this matter, and your answer may be different. But with the current Administration in its last two years, it’s not too early to try and figure out whether to continue this experiment, and how it might be different for the next President (assuming that person decides to keep the job). Knowing more about how the current position (and office) are intended to operate can help inform that discussion.