Obama Expected To Appoint A Technology Czar President-elect Barack Obama is expected to create a position of chief technology officer. Technology commentator Mario Armstrong says the position is important because some agencies already have chief information officers, and the effort needs to be centralized to make sure everybody is using the latest technology.

Obama Expected To Appoint A Technology Czar

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96805492/96805463" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


During his campaign, President-elect Obama staked out a clear position on many issues related to technology.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Together, we harness technology to confront the biggest challenges that America faces. Just imagine what we could do.

MONTAGNE: And now that he's in a better position to implement those ideas, we called in Morning Edition's technology commentator Mario Armstrong to talk about them. Good morning, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hi, Renee. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you very much. Barack Obama has appointed a technology expert to his transition team, and he said he plans to create a chief technology officer. How big a deal is this? And, I mean, what would a technology czar do?

ARMSTRONG: Number one, currently right now chief information officers are at various agencies. So they need to centralize that effort and to make sure that all the agencies are utilizing the best of breed of technology. So number two, they plan to work with private tech firms and import the best applications to run federal government. And thirdly, this tech czar would also be responsible to helping the government, the federal government, be more transparent and be more open in its processes and policies and decision-making.

MONTAGNE: And here's a clip from a speech he gave to Google.

(Soundbite of Obama's speech to Google)

President-elect OBAMA: We will put government data online in universally accessible formats. I'll let citizens track federal grants, contracts, earmarks and lobbying contracts.

MONTAGNE: And what else is he proposing to do in this area?

ARMSTRONG: Well you know, it's interesting because he worked - he teamed up with Republican Tom Coburn to create this Googleish type of search engine that citizens would be able to search government contracts. So he has kind of proven that he's willing to take that step in this direction. And I think he has to follow up with how he's ran an election to now how he would transparently run government.

MONTAGNE: And here's another moment where he says he wants to improve access to the Internet.

(Soundbite of Obama's speech to Google)

President-elect OBAMA: I will set a goal of ensuring that every American has broadband access no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have or don't have.

MONTAGNE: Mario, broadband is pretty accessible right now. So what else is he planning for high-speed Internet service?

ARMSTRONG: Well, some people would argue the point that it is not as accessible as you may think. The bottom line is the United States invented the Internet. But now we rank around 14th according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I mean, look at France. France is half the price of what we charge, and it's four times as fast. And Barack's position on this has been to utilize what is called the Universal Service Fund which has typically been utilized to help rural America be able to receive phone service. They want to rewrite that to now go from phone service to broadband service.

MONTAGNE: As a candidate, Barack Obama took a position on the number of people allowed in under the H1B visa program.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, absolutely. And this gets right to the heart of another issue. I mean, we're talking about immigration. A lot of tech companies and CEOs that need to have skilled engineers, skilled programmers, skilled technology workforce now favor the H1B visa program. Barack Obama supports a temporary increase in skilled immigrants allowed here under the H1B visas. But really what I've been hearing is that what he wants to do is to have a comprehensive immigration reform policy, and H1B visa would be a part of that.

While they are working on that longer piece, he is supportive of a temporary increase with the H1B visas. So now you have all of these issues: economy, education, entrepreneurship and innovation. I mean, I guess this is just my personal opinion. Technology is usually seen as a spoke in the wheel, and now it's the hub that's working within all of these spokes.

MONTAGNE: Mario Armstrong is Morning Edition's regular technology commentator. He also hosts a radio show called The Digital Cafe which is on Baltimore Public Radio station WEAA. Glad to talk with you again.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Renee. I appreciate it.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.