Obama's CTO: Just do what, exactly?

It might possibly be the worst job in the world, outside of replacing Jerry Yang as Yahoo's CEO. Yet people seem to be clamoring for it -- or at least, clamoring to have someone famous fill it.

I'm talking of course about the brand new cabinet post of United States Chief Technology Officer. The list of names bandied about for US CTO are a Who's Who of geekdom: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Carly Fiorina, Jeff Bezos, Steve Ballmer, Bill Joy, and, yes, Jerry Yang. (Google's Eric Schmidt has already said, no thanks. He's already master of the universe, so why accept a demotion?)

Other candidates are more obscure but probably more appropriate: Princeton's Ed Felten, crytopgraphy wonk Bruce Schneier, Harvard's Julius Genachowski, Stanford copyright king Lawrence Lessig.

So far, not a soul has nominated Larry Ellison. So maybe Americans aren't that crazy after all.

Thinking of applying? You can fill out an "expression of interest" form at the Change.gov site. Mention this blog, and I'm sure your resume will shoot to the top of the pile.

Meanwhile, the non-official ObamaCTO.org site is pondering a bigger question: what should the next CTO do? You can vote on the issues that should have the highest priority, in your humble opinion.

This site is both a great indicator for what Netizens care most deeply about, as well as a great indicator they have no clue what a CTO actually does.

Here are the top three priorities listed on the site, along with why I think they're wholly inappropriate.

Ensure Net Neutrality: More than 10,000 people voted for this one. But unless Congress passes a law regulating the treatment of bits (a distinct possibility, given the makeup of the new Congress) this is going to fall to the FCC. A CTO can certainly make his or her opinions known on the topic, but that's about it.

Repeal The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: An atrocious piece of legislation that needs an extreme upgrade, if not outright replacement. But again, this one's in Congress's wheelhouse.

Revise the Patriot Act: Keep the parts that help law enforcement agencies share information and 86 the sections that trample our Constitutional rights. I'm all for that. But again, this is not an area where a CTO will have much influence.

What a CTO could do, of course, is help to chart the federal government's technological priorities. My short list:

1. Rationalize the process by which the feds undertake technology upgrades (translation: stop wasting billions of dollars on tech that's already obsolete or unworkable).

2. Create a security infrastructure that protects our nation's technology infrastructure, so we don't find ourselves where Estonia was in May 2007 -- all government operations taken down by foreign hackers with an agenda. (Yes, China, I'm talking about you.)

3. Ensure open access to government data for all Americans. Work with other agencies to disband the cult of secrecy that has shrouded government operations for the past eight years. In other words, open the doors and turn on the lights.

I think that's a good start. How about you? What do you think the new CTO should do? Post your thoughts below or email them to me direct: dan (at) dantynan (dot) com.

When not padding his resume, Dan Tynan writes about technnology at his blogs, Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.


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