WaPo: Where’s the CTO?

Back during the campaign, technophiles and transparency advocates were particularly excited by Barack Obama’s pledge to appoint a Chief Technology Officer for the federal government. Many hoped that the CTO would pioneer new ways of disseminating information between government and the governed, opening up the decision making process and empowering citizen watchdogs.

But what, exactly, Obama intended to have this new position do was remarkably undefined. Just after the inauguration, the Congressional Research Service published a report (*.pdf) reading the tea leaves of various Obama statements, and managed to hazard a few bare guesses. Others have offered ideas, like the tech, state government, and corporate CTOs interviewed in this February 17 special package by InformationWeek, a trade publication.

But Obama himself gave the CTO one clear task with a specific deadline right out of the gate. Here’s how The Washington Post describes it in a worthwhile article from today’s paper on the White House’s struggles with and plans for their Web site:

On his first full day as president, he issued a memo on WhiteHouse.gov saying that the administration’s yet-unnamed chief technology officer will be charged with writing an “open government” directive that will outline how agencies and departments in the federal government will be more transparent and collaborative.

Working with the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration, the technology chief has 120 days to come up with the directive.

The directive highlights three principles (“Government should be transparent… participatory … [and] collaborative”) before charging the three member committee with producing an Open Government Directive in 120 days.

And as the Post points out today, after forty days and forty nights, there’s still no CTO. That means that a third of the time the president gave to develop the directive has passed without one of the principals existing. And that’s a timeline that can’t comfort those who had high hopes for this position.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.