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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

High Hopes for the New National CTO

Aneesh Chopra will be tasked with creating jobs, reducing health care costs and helping keep the nation secure.

  • April 22, 2009

Aneesh Chopra, President Obama’s appointee for national chief technology officer, is not giving interviews until after he’s confirmed. But as Virginia’s technology secretary, he was known for finding creative ways to bring broadband to remote rural areas of that state. He’s also a booster of electronic medical records and understands that ubiquitous broadband is needed to enable their fullest impact: Chopra was quoted in this story last year saying: “People are literally dying because they can’t get the broadband they need to run the [medical] software.”

With any luck the appointment of Chopra will translate into the wise expenditure of $7.2 billion set aside in the stimulus bill to promote broadband expansion. Chopra will be the national technology policy counterpart to Obama’s chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, who will oversee an overhaul of the federal government’s computer infrastructure. Kundra was previously CTO for Washington, DC.

Tech industry bigwigs have fallen over themselves to praise the Chopra appointment–but what else would they do? Cynicism aside, some more neutral observers share the optimism, and predict that technology is an area where Obama has the highest chance of making his mark on the nation, given that war, an economic crisis, and gridlock in Congress may hamstring him on other fronts.

In announcing the appointment in his radio and video address last Saturday, Obama said Chopra will promote technological innovation “to help achieve our most urgent priorities, from creating jobs and reducing health care costs, to keeping our nation secure.”

Chopra and Kundra “will be recognized in several years as the biggest agents of ‘change’ Obama promised and delivered,” Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference, told me. “Technology in an Obama administration will be more than just a slice of the pie. It will be the pan that supports change in all the issue areas he will address as president.”

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