Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

Obama’s yet-to-be-named CTO suggestion box

with 5 comments

So there is a ton o’ buzz about President-elect Obama’s proposal to create a CTO — a chief technology officer. The proposal came out of the campaign and the then senator made his technology proposal, which included the creation of “the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer.” Here is what Obama’s technology platform says:

Bring Government into the 21st Century: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Obama and Biden believe in the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability and willingness to give and to give back to make government work better. Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

So what should the priorities of the Obama CTO be? Well, you can sound off — and make suggestions. There is a new Web site,, where you can make suggestions… and vote on other’s suggestions for the yet-to-be-named CTO.

I first read about the site on CNet.

While the technology pundits are debating the role of an Obama administration CTO, a few programmers in Seattle yesterday decided to do something more useful. Using an application from UserVoice, they launched, a site, unaffiliated with the Obama machine, that allow citizens to list and vote on what should be the top tech priorities for the new administration.

“User voting is an easy way for people to prioritize ideas,” said Matt Lerner of, which created the site. While the voting on this site is more like on Digg than a scientific sampling, and can be gamed, it is part of the Internet-fueled movement to give more of voice to the populace. The Obama campaign provided ample evidence of the benefits of using the Web for massive outreach. Now the question is how much weight the wisdom of the crowd will carry in influencing the direction of government policy.

Tonight, I actually spoke to Matt Lerner, the… er.. CTO of, and we are going to have him on Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris in the 5p ET hour Friday.

After talking to Lerner — who is wonderful — I then found that NextGov’s Tech Insider had written about the site pointing to the NYT Bits blog.

Tech geeks are tickled that come January, one of their kind will be in the White House. With the election of Barack Obama, a text-messaging Facebook user.

Who should get the role of C.T.O. — the geeks’ representative in Washington — has been the subject of intense debate in the tech community. On Tuesday, a few of those geeks started, a Web site with advice for the C.T.O., whomever he or she might be. (Obama has said he planned to get ideas directly from voters, and he is already doing so at his transition Web site,

Obama CTO was built by Front Seat, a small Seattle software company that creates Web sites for civic causes. Its biggest project is Walk Score, a site that ranks neighborhoods by how walkable they are. They got the idea to build Obama CTO around noon on Tuesday and posted it by the afternoon.

The idea came, oddly enough, from the Republicans, who are soliciting citizen ideas online at Rebuild the Party, said Matt Lerner, chief technology officer at Front Seat. He started getting involved in Democratic politics while working at Microsoft in 2004, when he founded Driving Votes to register Democratic voters in swing states. “Appointing a C.T.O. has been an invitation for Silicon Valley to get more involved,” said Mr. Lerner, who co-founded EQuill, a Web development software company, and sold it to Microsoft in 2001. “Hopefully the C.T.O., when elected, will take a look at the site and see what some of the priorities of the community will be.”

Among some of the suggestions on

Open Government Data (APIs, XML, RSS)
We can unleash a wave of civic innovation if we open up government data to programmers. The government has a treasure trove of information: legislation, budgets, voter files, campaign finance data, census data, etc. Let’s STANDARDIZE, STRUCTURE, and OPEN up this data.

Gov to be ran on 100% free software
Premise: Software is licensed to distribute the overhead of its initial development, the cost of which few organizations could afford. Because all government software purchases are made with public funds, the public should be licensed to use it.

Proposition: All future investments are to be made in software that is licensed to grant use and source code access to all governed subjects. Security will be maintained with the use of trusted concepts, including asymmetric cryptography, and not rely on the obscurity of closed source software. Where viable further development of existing operating systems and applications will be funded. Where not viable, or where competition is lacking, new projects will be originated. No patents will be granted for pubic works. Release of existing patents will be used as bargaining in the contract bidding process.

Opinion: The ability of corporations and individuals to support themselves by developing software will not be impeded. On the contrary, the funding will be fair market representations of what the development is worth. The only thing that will change is that public will receive direct benefit from having paid for the software. The result will be a new renaissance in software advancement. We will also realize boons in hardware utilization and life cycle extension, helping to relieve the e-waste crisis.

Allow the public to comment on all legislation

Allow at least a 5 day comment period where the public can comment on all legislation before it is signed into law.

You can vote for suggestions… or make your own.

So tomorrow, we’re going to talk to eWeek editor in chief Eric Lundquist about his column suggesting that the CTO should actually be a CIO… And hear from one of the creators of… on Friday’s Big Show.

Written by cdorobek

November 13, 2008 at 9:57 PM

5 Responses

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  1. It was fun to be able to contribute. The atomic power of Web 2.0 is certain. I’m very curious about our ability to harness that power.


    November 15, 2008 at 8:44 PM

  2. I would very much like to know what happened to the website?


    November 16, 2008 at 8:58 PM

  3. Help the folks on main street. Let us deduct credit card interest on our income tax NOW.

    Dan Schmid

    December 3, 2008 at 3:21 PM

  4. […] various issue areas — including what kind of dog the Obamas should get. (More on here… and hear our conversation with the creator of on Federal News Radio 1500 […]

  5. Economy-Create programs which would inform the public on the economy and create programs that citizens can participate in to improve the economy- i.e.Govt Bonds to support bailouts and to provide a safe place for citizens who do have money to invest-but want a sure place to do it-small dollar values should be available for those who can only invest a little money but want to be part of the solution-other suggestions should come from the administration on how individuals can support regrowth thru savings,investments and or sweat equity

    Richard Rubin

    January 23, 2009 at 9:11 AM

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