Obama’s Federal Chief Technology Officer

President Barack Obama made good on his campaign pledge this weekend, appointing Aneesh Chopra U.S. Chief Technology Officer, a new cabinet-level post. Obama promised to create the CTO post last year during his successful run for the presidency.

Obama’s made no secret of his desire to use IT to improve government communications and transparency, and that, in and of itself, is a worthwhile goal. E-government, if implemented with an eye toward reducing costs and speeding processes, can be transformative. Also encouraging is that Obama reached into the user community—Chopra currently is the state of Virginia’s secretary of technology. His choice came as a surprise to the IT community, who expected Obama to choose 1) a high-profile CEO from the tech sector (speculation centered on Google’s Eric Schmidt, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among others).

Although Chopra is somewhat of an unknown, on first blush, the fact he is not affiliated with a major supplier pre-empts the politics that might have accompanied an individual from the manufacturing or services sector. Chopra seems to have more experience in developing IT solutions and best practices, and one hopes that will remain the policy priority, as opposed to a doctrinaire approach, be it network neutrality or open source procurement.

Still, Chopra’s experience with health care IT may point to Obama’s own priorities. Again, improvement in health IT can be enormously rewarding if implemented correctly—the market is already developing a number of approaches. A government-run health IT system, wherein the feds collect and retain massive medical databases on its citizens is rife with problems. There is nothing yet to indicate Chopra leans in this direction. Any IT executive these days is nonetheless familiar with the growing need for strong, workable information security practices and that as of today, the federal government is no model for them.

Where ever he falls politically, my hope is that Chopra’s real world experience will temper some of Obama’s grander notions as to how well government and protection of citizen information will mix.