Princeton Alums Mentioned As Potential CTOs For Obama

This story was written by Raymond Brusca, The Daily Princetonian
News outlets and political blogs have placed three Princetonians on the shortlist to be the nations first chief technology officer, a new cabinet-level position to guide federal technology policy and implementation in President-elect Barack Obamas administration.

Amazon.com CEO Jeffrey Bezos 86, Google CEO Eric Schmidt 76 and computer science professor Ed Felten have all been floated as possible CTOs for the BlackBerry-carrying Obama, whose campaigns success was bolstered by online fundraising and social networking and who has been lauded as the most technologically aware president ever elected.

Other candidates floated include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Google Vice President Vint Cerf, Stanford Center for the Internet and Society founder Lawrence Lessig and Obamas former Harvard Law School classmate and campaign adviser Julius Genachowski.

Schmidt, who just finished his tenure as a university trustee this year, is currently serving on Obamas transition advisory board and has already been in contact with Jason Furman, Obamas policy director, to petition for the creation of jobs in the alternative energy sector, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But Schmidt, who could not been reached for comment for this article, has said numerous times that he is not interested in leaving Silicon Valley for Washington, D.C.

I love working at Google, and Im happy at Google, so the answer is no, he said in an interview on CNBC last week when asked whether he would like to become the nations first CTO.

Bezos could also not be reached for comment.

Felten told BusinessWeek last month that Obamas team had not approached him about potential involvement in the new administration, but he told The Daily Princetonian in an interview this week that he does find the new position appealing.

I think a position like this is hard to say no to on some level, he said. But I think there are still some questions about what exactly the position is.

Still, Felten said he believes the CTO will help define the role of technology in the 21st century.

Government has been conscious of information technology for some time, he said.

I think the creation of the position would be one more symbol that information technology is being taken seriously in the political process.

Felten said he could not say specifically what the position should entail, explaining it is ultimately a matter of what the administration wants. He did, however, offer his insights on what he felt were technology priorities for the United States, citing network neutrality as a particular issue.

The debate about network neutrality is about what role the [Internet Service Providers] will play, he explained. Some people are worried that ISPs will filter or block certain types of traffic for business or political reasons and as a result be harmful to society. Most people want to have federal rules to require ISPs to be technically neutral.

Felten also said he sees a burgeoning role for information technology in the health care sector, citing digitization of medical records as an example, and said he envisions the CTO playing a part in navigating that expansion.

There has been a lot of discussion of how electronic medical records and broader use of information of technology in health care will cause and lead to better care, he said.

Felten added that there are both lingering technical and privacy concerns related to electronic medical records and that such issues are going to be discussed at the federal level.

Stressing that it is ultimately up to the Obama administration to define what the CTOs function will be he offered a general formula about how the CTO and the federal government should use technology to confront pressing issues in the coming years.

Generally, its [about] how to use the advances in technology that are available and cash them in for things that really improve peoples lives, he said. Its about how you can exploit technology to improve government, healthcare and provide economic growth. Its really about connecting the advances in technology to things that matter to peoples lives.

While Obama has yet to outline his vision for the CTOs priorities, his campaign platform on barackobama.com emphasizes three technology priorities: open internet, developing better communication infrastructure and improving American competitiveness.

In addition to carrying out this agenda, Obamas CTO would undertake proactive measures to promote transparency in the political process by making sure government officials offer live Webcasts of their meetings, according to venturebeat.com, a technology and business news site. Likewise, cabinet officials and federal agencies would be encouraged to transmit a live feed of their deliberations to the public, who would be able to comment on the White House website at least five days before legislation is signed, the site said.

As Obama shapes the role of the CTO over the next few months, one thing is certain: Technology will play a more central role in the federal governments priorities.

Obama, who has inspired comparisons to former president John F. Kennedy, connects with a younger demographic than his immediate predecessors. The Kennedy youth movements slogan of turn on, tune in, however, will take on new meaning when the tech-savvy Obama takes office next January.
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