Open Government

with Aneesh Chopra

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First CTO

Aneesh Choprah on becoming the first CTO of the United States

Aneesh Chopra

Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer, Author, Entrepreneur

Lessons Learned

Government cares more about the application and implication than the technology itself.

The CTO’s mission is to improve public & private interface, harnessing the full power of technology.


Lesson: Open Government with Aneesh Choprah

Step #1 First CTO: Aneesh Choprah on becoming the first CTO of the United States

When President Obama was a candidate, he had remarked at almost every campaign stop that technology and innovation had transformed virtually all of our lives but the one aspect that perhaps mattered in many cases the most and that's our interface as a democracy with our government. He had pledged during the campaign that he'd have a chief technology officer whose mission among many would be to prioritize ways to improve that public-private interface by harnessing the full power of technology, data, and innovation.

I was a cabinet position in Virginia created by a Republican governor to say that we wanted to have a similar role at the state level. Only four people in Virginia had the role by the time I was the fourth and when President Obama went looking, I was asked to be at least on the transition team because I had some subject matter expertise, and then I was very lucky and honored that a few months later he said, "Would you be that first?" And so it was largely because I had the exposure of how technology and innovation could be harnessed for the public good given that I was working in the farm team, if you will, at the state level and that gave me the chance to serve at the federal level.

Virginia was among the first, in fact, it was the first and then about half a dozen states have since copied. But now at this stage it's as if every level of government throughout the county and in many cases around the world, they're increasingly adding a chief technology officer role, very similar to what President Obama had envisioned. It's becoming now a more ubiquitous role and voice in the public dialog.

I had spent nearly a decade of my life in health care at a firm called The Advisory Board Company now publicly traded. But at that time, one of my main assignments was to figure out the hospital CEOs in particular on 1998, 1999, 2000, the Internet was having an impact but the question was, to what end and what are the implications? And at that time, there were just any number of technology companies knocking on the doors of these hospitals just to say, "If you don't digital today, you're going to go away tomorrow." And I wanted to take a step back and look more at the strategic and business implications. A lot of my particular focus was on understanding where was the actual sources of value creation that would improve the American health care system.

I met with Governor Kaine as he was elected, my message to him was less about the technology in and of itself but entirely about the application of technology to advance the priorities that he had set forth in his campaign, including health care IT, modernizing the energy grid, thinking about workforce in new and clever ways, and that was a big part of my background was understanding the implications, the application of these technologies on big important sectors of the economy.

Opening up the government in more clever ways to tap into the expertise and the entrepreneurial spirit of the country. I often talk about this being the decade of problem solving. And the way we're going to solve problems can either be in some ways a battle royale where republicans and democrats fight to the death, one side wins and has a decade to rule at its wish; that's one vision for some. But another is, we're just not going to get anything done at all. Why bother? This country has given up on solving problems. We're just going to watch Washington feel like it's in a rut forever.

I was most excited about having this new option, the idea that if we worked better together, the public and private sector, we use the resources of the federal government, specifically around data, that we could open up and invite the public to take advantage of and to build better services and could work together on standards that would lower barriers to entry to make industries more competitive, could tap into entrepreneurial problem solvers by issuing challenges and prizes, and could staff very specific problems with internal and external startup entrepreneurs who would come together to fix specific problems. These were the techniques that really took advantage of the positive spirit at the public-private interface. And I'm most proud that we plowed some initial ground to see that that works.

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