Google's Schmidt Says No To U.S. CTO Post - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
11/10/2008
03:35 PM
Roger Smith
Roger Smith
Commentary
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Google's Schmidt Says No To U.S. CTO Post

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt on Friday took himself out of the running for the U.S. CTO post in Barack Obama's administration.

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt on Friday took himself out of the running for the U.S. CTO post in Barack Obama's administration.In an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer on his television program Mad Money, Schmidt said, "I love working at Google and I'm very happy to stay at Google, so the answer is no." Asked by Cramer in a follow up question if he was prepared to "turn down the president-elect in this time of crisis," Schmidt was more emphatic, saying "Google is its own exciting opportunity." Schmidt was one of the leading contenders for the first-ever Cabinet-level post of chief technology officer, one of a number of new technology initiatives promised by the Obama-Biden campaign, which you can see in broad outline below:

Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Ideas through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets • Protect the Openness of the Internet • Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership • Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment • Safeguard our Right to Privacy

Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy • Open Up Government to its Citizens • Bring Government into the 21st Century 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.

Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure • Deploy Next-Generation Broadband

Improve America's Competitiveness • Promote American Businesses Abroad • Invest in the Sciences • Invest in University-Based Research • Make the R&D Tax Credit Permanent • Ensure Competitive Markets • Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad • Protect American Intellectual Property at Home • Reform the Patent System • Restore Scientific Integrity to the White House

Prepare All our Children for the 21st century economy • Make Math and Science Education a National Priority • Improve and Prioritize Science Assessments • Address the Dropout Crisis • Pinpoint College Aid for Math and Science Students • Increase Science and Math Graduates

Prepare Adults for a Changing Economy • Lifelong Retraining • Build a Reliable Safety Net

Employ Science, Technology, and Innovation to Solve Our Nation's Most Pressing Problems • Lower Health Care Costs by Investing in Electronic Information Technology Systems • Invest in Climate-Friendly Energy Development and Deployment • Modernize Public Safety Networks

The large scope of these technology initiatives and the entrenched nature of Washington bureaucracy make me think that any new U.S. CTO will have their work cut out for them. The equivocal nature of the above CTO job description (The CTO "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") also makes me question whether the new CTO will have enough authority to drive needed technology change through all the different layers of government IT departments.

Since the U.S. ranks 15th among industrial nations in broadband penetration, with just 23 out of 100 Americans having access to high-bandwidth service, I remain convinced that expanding broadband penetration in the U.S., particularly in rural areas, should be the No. 1 priority for the new U.S. CTO -- which also happens to be the shortest and most straightforward item on Obama's laundry list of tech initiatives.

One of Obama's most high-profile supporters during the campaign, Google CEO Schmidt was in Chicago Friday as part of Obama's 17-person economic transition economic advisory board, which was meeting to discuss how to deal with the ongoing financial crisis. Asked by Cramer is there was a sense of urgency at the meeting, Schmidt responded, "There was the sense we need to get our act together and move. What I've noticed about this President-elect, he listens really carefully and moves." Which seems to suggest -- even with Schmidt out of the running -- that the appointment of the nation's first Chief Technology Officer will not be long in coming once Obama moves into the Oval Office.

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