SAN JOSE, Calif. The United States has its first ever chief technology officer. But Aneesh Chopra is not well known in the electronics industry, and it's not clear whether his focus will be on many of the issues near and dear to the sector.
In his weekly Saturday address, President Barack Obama named Chopra CTO but provided little specific information about the focus of his job or his background.
"Aneesh will promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities " from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure," Obama said in his online address.
He will work with Vivek Kundra, previously named as federal Chief Information Officer, "who is responsible for setting technology policy across the government, and using technology to improve security, ensure transparency, and lower costs," Obama said.
According to his online bio, Chopra is a government specialist, not an engineer. He has served as Virginia's fourth Secretary of Technology where he "fosters technology-related economic development with a special emphasis on entrepreneurship."
Prior to joining state government in 2003, he served as managing director with the Advisory Board Company, a publicly-traded health care think tank serving nearly 2,500 hospitals and health systems. He was named to the Top 25 in a special issue of movers and shaker published by Government Technology magazine and holds a masters degree in public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Previous, speculation over who Obama might name swirled around electronics luminaries such as Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco Systems and Eric Schmidt the chief executive of Google. A Wall Street Journal blog noted Obama's chief technology adviser during the campaign, former venture capitalist Julius Genachowski, was considered a candidate for the job but he opted to head the Federal Communications Commission, and is awaiting Senate confirmation as FCC chairman.
Chopra did not even hit our radar screen of top tech candidates for the CTO job in a story written after Obama was elected in November. The story suggested Obama broaden the initial job description he sketched out for the CTO role in his campaign.
It's unclear how versed or focused Chopra may or may not be some of the industry's top issues. Groups such as the Semiconductor Industry Association have long lobbied for more federal spending on basic research, permanent R&D credits and more open immigration policies for tech workers articulated in the America Competes Act. Others have been driving work on patent reform.
Despite the gulf between Chopra and industry, reports have already emerged that leaders including Google's Schmidt and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins have praised the choice of Chopra.
Phil Bond, president of TechAmerica, the lobby group formed by the January merger of ITAA and AeA, said Chopra "has championed policies that enable better government and a stronger economy through use of technology," speaking in a press statement. Bond noted Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of tech workers and has added tech jobs for four consecutive years as of 2007.
In a blog, Tim O'Reilly said Chopra has learned key how to deal with issues such as "working within the bounds of government policy, competing constituencies, budgets that often contain legislative mandates, regulations that may no longer be relevant but are still in force, and many other unique constraints."