President Obama said Friday that Chopra performed groundbreaking work to bring the federal government into the 21st century. "Aneesh found countless ways to engage the American people using technology, from electronic health records for veterans, to expanding access to broadband for rural communities, to modernizing government records," Obama said in a statement. "His legacy of leadership and innovation will benefit Americans for years to come, and I thank him for his outstanding service."
Though Chopra's primary focus was to identify ways to exploit information technology to make the government run more efficiently, he collaborated with others in the administration to make sure technology the government employed was secure.
Collaboration with Cybersecurity Coordinator
Chopra collaborated closely with White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt in developing the Obama administration's cybersecurity research and development strategy issued last month (see White House Unveils Cybersecurity R&D Plan). In a jointly written White House blog, Chopra and Schmidt wrote that it's imperative that the government fundamentally alter the dynamics in cybersecurity through the development of novel solutions and technologies, given the magnitude and pervasiveness of cyberspace threats to the nation's economy and security.
That collaboration began when Schmidt became cybersecurity coordinator in January 2010. In December of that year, both men helped draft an administration memorandum of understanding to speed up the commercialization of cybersecurity research innovations that support the nation's critical infrastructures (see Feds, Financial Sector in R&D Initiative). In a blog, the two White House officials explained how America's competitiveness depends on secure IT systems, including online services offered by the financial services industry.
Political Career in the Offing?
The White House didn't say what Chopra would do next. The Washington Post reports that Chopra is mulling a run for lieutenant governor of Virginia as a Democrat in 2013.
"Aneesh immediately becomes a front-runner for lieutenant governor given his boundless energy and years spent building relationships across Virginia," one longtime Democratic activist in Virginia familiar with Chopra's thinking but who was not authorized to speak publicly told the Post. "He has been wanting to run for office, and by leaving the White House now, he will be able to focus on helping the president and (U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Timothy) Kaine this year and building toward a run in 2013."
Chopra had been serving as Virginia's technology secretary under Kaine when Obama tapped him to be federal CTO in April 2009 (see Obama IT Team Coming Into Shape). Chopra led Virginia's strategy to leverage technology in government reform, to promote its innovation agenda and to foster technology-related economic development. He previously worked as managing director with the Advisory Board Co., a healthcare consultancy, where he led the firm's Financial Leadership Council and Working Council for Health Plan Executives.
Dizzying Array of Accomplishments
Chopra's boss at the White House, John P. Holdren, said working with Chopra for nearly three years proved to be an invigorating experience. "Among a dizzying array of accomplishments, Aneesh helped design the president's National Wireless Initiative, including the development of a nationwide public safety broadband network, establish a set of Internet Policy Principles including the call for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and led the implementation of the president's open government strategy focused on unlocking the innovative potential of the federal government to solve problems and seed the jobs and industries of the future," Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a White House post.
In a Twitter post, Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel wrote: "Honor to work alongside CTO @aneeshchopra for the last six months. Will miss his passion, his drive, leadership and friendship."
Jennifer Covich-Bordenick, chief executive officer of the not-for-profit healthcare technology advocacy group eHealth Initiative, praised Chopra as an "incredibly dynamic leader who got people excited about healthcare technology."
No word yet on who will be Chopra's successor as CTO. But whomever Obama picks, new challenges await. "His successor faces a different set of challenges, including economic constraints and an increasingly skeptical public that wants proof that information technology really does improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes," Covich-Bordenick said. "In my view, the next CTO should make this his top priority, starting on day one."
No. 1 or Not?
Whether Chorpa served as the first federal CTO is debatable. In 2002, Norman Lorentz, a senior staffer in the White House Office of Management and Budget, was designated chief technology officer (see When Firsts Aren't Really Firsts). "That's an account of history I guess they want to forget that," Lorentz, with a slight chuckle in his voice, said at the time of Chopra's appointment. "I've moved past that."
Lorentz's then boss at OMB, Mark Forman, said Chopra's job and the one held by Lorentz were markedly different. "Norm was in charge of overseeing the federal enterprise and really how technology got leveraged into the operations, into the business architecture of the federal government," Forman said. "By moving that position over to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, you're really focusing on broader issues. OSTP is a policy organization as opposed to an official engagement in the management operations in government."
Forman, by the way, served as the federal government's first administrator for e-government and IT, a post now known as federal chief information officer.