TR: How is that different from the job of a national chief information officer?
That’s a good question, and I’m not sure if I have a good answer. It seems to me that whatever you call it, it’s helpful to put the coördinating activities and policy advisory piece under the CTO umbrella. That feels different from a CIO.
TR: How much actual power would the position have?
How much formal authority versus soft power a CTO has is clearly a very big issue. No matter how much formal authority you have, if you don’t have soft power you’re not going to get anything done. So you want somebody who is taken seriously, and it would help if the president makes it very clear that this is a serious position. Second, it should be the kind of person who is able to lead by influence and not by command. I personally think that might well be sufficient.
TR: You mean the CTO would be a moral force, equipped only with soft power?
The idea of trying to give a CTO formal authority over other bodies and agencies has a very high risk of failure.
TR: It sounds as if the CTO would have no operational responsibility and be unaccountable if anything went wrong.
I don’t know. I was a volunteer on a committee that worked on the proposal last fall, so what I know about are the discussions that led up to the announcement. The plan of record for the CTO doesn’t get into a level of detail that would address this, and I don’t have visibility on what has or hasn’t happened since the plan was announced.
TR: You come from the world of startups. But our government is a series of competing, often sclerotic bureaucracies.
It’s important for whoever has the role to go in with the expectation that the federal government is the opposite of a startup. To expect it to be agile is just ludicrously unrealistic.
TR: So who’s on your shortlist?
I’m a million miles away from whatever group of people will actually pick the CTO. I would like it to be someone who has some startup DNA in him or her, but who’s realistic about getting things done.
TR: One has to ask: do you want to be CTO?
I’m interested in helping in some way, but the time to think about specifics is post-election.