Why the basically good choice of Aneesh Chopra for US CTO scares the bejeesus out of me

Aneesh Chopra, the newly-announced United States Chief Technology Officer, is getting rave reviews, including a detailed and highly influential one from Tim O'Reilly.

Chopra seems to be cut from the same cloth as United States Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. In particular, both seem focused on the innovative, agile, and prudent use of new consumer-style technologies and technological approaches -- search, social networking, iPhones, crowdsourcing, and the like. The biggest difference seems to be that Kundra has over a decade of actual IT experience, while Chopra is more of a health care and public policy guy who just recently segued into IT.

By no means do I want to bust on Chopra's resume. After all, I was one of the top analysts of the IT industry at age 24 or so, three years after leaving the Kennedy School of Government, which is the same place Chopra got his first graduate degree. But I have the same concerns about the Chopra/ Kundra team that I have about Kundra alone. Namely, I'm afraid that Obama, Chopra, and Kundra are so focused on shiny new technologies that they won't address some of the devastatingly critical challenges of government IT.

For the record, my top three seemingly-to-be-ignored, utterly critical government IT challenges are, in declining order:

  • We need a radically new legal structure for privacy and the government use of information. Failure to act in a timely fashion could literally lead to the end of liberty as we know it.
  • Large-project contracting and technology acquisition are totally broken. We also need a new legal structure for those.
  • Once contracting is somewhat cleaned up, we need an agency-spanning consolidation project to radically reduce the number of systems and data centers the Federal government operates.

Yes, using new technologies transforming government, health care, and education are all hugely important. But the more "big iron" types of issues I'm highlighting are utterly crucial as well.

Edit: Thinking further in preparation for an upcoming radio interview (more on that after the audio file is posted), it occurs to me that much of this can be boiled down as follows: Two of the top challenges for government IT are technology adoption and data integration. Obama's team seems focused on -- and hopefully stellar at -- the first, but not at all tuned in to the second.


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