Hail to the Geek

Lawrence Lessig’s brief take on the buggy system Obama’ chief technology officer will inherit.

Photo: Fotosearch


one of obama’s key tech proposals has been to appoint a chief technology officer. The position, one aide says, would have a mandate comparable in breadth to the national security adviser, ensuring that tech is part of the policy calculus whether the topic is agriculture or Afghanistan. According to campaign documents, the cto would work with top techies at all executive branch agencies, and through them cajole the hidebound bureaucracy to “use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.” But Obama’s geeks may be in for a rude awakening in Washington: This is, after all, the city where the White House email archiving system until recently relied on print-and-file, er, technology­, while the fbi spent five years and $105 million on a case management system it ultimately threw out. “If anybody expects they can walk into the executive branch and reorganize it from a technological perspective without the strongest authorization under the law or from the executive, they’re fooling themselves,” says Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig, who consulted with the Obama campaign. Will the cto be a Cabinet-level post? Will he or she have budgetary control? A direct line to the president? “I don’t think there is strong consensus yet inside the campaign about what the cto is supposed to be,” says Lessig. But at least, he notes, “Obama is of a generation that understands technology has to be integrated into everything you do. It’s the first time we have anything close to that.”

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