Obama’s CTO eyes the cloud

Aneesh Chopra, CTO, U.S Government

The federal government is “bullish” on prospects for using cloud and mobile technologies, although perhaps not at the expense of existing legacy infrastructure, federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said.

During an appearance in Silicon Valley, Chopra, the nation’s first-ever CTO, acknowledged the inevitable emergence of cloud and mobile as solutions for the federal government, but he sees them as supplementing rather than replacing legacy systems.

He said, “I’m not so sure it’s an either/or. I absolutely see the trend toward the combination of cloud and mobile as a very, very powerful asset to be mined for new capabilities that aren’t yet online. It might very well be that legacy infrastructure will stay on its course, but new capabilities are introduced in a manner that takes advantage of cloud and mobile — and we’re very bullish on those prospects.”

The federal government is pursuing cloud computing and has a team focused on security concerns related to it, Chopra said. “We want to make sure there are opportunities for all forms of cloud computing — private clouds, hybrid clouds, commercial clouds — and we’ve been engaged in the process.”

Federal officials are talking with Microsoft, Google, HP, and others about breakthroughs in cloud computing. Chopra said, “My colleague [U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra] is managing the cloud-first policy for the adoption in the federal government, and that’s on track and on plan.” The government in its cloud pursuits seeks to get the industry to adopt technical standards for security, interoperability, and other capabilities, Chopra said.

Chopra has mapped out key IT priorities for his boss, President Barack Obama. “I have five priorities for the president. The first of those priorities is to modernize our digital infrastructure, emphasising fourth-generation wireless technologies. Where that’s progressing is we have a proposed bill the president called for in the State of the Union [address] that would liberate 500MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years.”

The second priority, said Chopra, involves the Startup America program, emphasising new market opportunities in health, energy, and education.

“Number three, we’re working on Internet policy principles. We’ve announced our support for a privacy bill of rights, so that obviously needs congressional review. Also, the president released a cyber security plan. My responsibility in that is the R&D domain, and we will be publishing a broader Internet policy principles agenda later this summer,” he said. The administration wants the private sector to voluntarily develop codes of conduct related to online privacy, enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission.

Chopra said, “Fourth, my first homework assignment since coming into office was to provide for a more open and transparent government. The president asked me in the capacity of CTO to provide recommendations on how to make the government transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Every federal agency today now has an open government plan. We are actively implementing those plans with a number of flagship initiatives that have already come online, and every day we celebrate a new initiative that is in the spirit of the president’s open government philosophy.” Chopra has been working on transparency initiatives that led to the creation of and other efforts. More than 300,000 data sets are available on, he said.

Asked about the issue of H-1B visas, Chopra said the demand has fallen a bit, but immigration reform is on the administration’s mind. “The president has called, as part of our comprehensive immigration reform package, to strengthen and improve upon the current H-1B system. We did make some administrative changes to H-1B for processing applications in a more streamlined fashion based on industry feedback.”

But the bulk of the change is part of a larger discussion about immigration reform, which includes securing the border, ensuring that employers are held accountable for employing legal Americans, and reforming the broader legal immigration system to focus on highly skilled persons, said Chopra.

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