Chopra unveils Open Innovator’s Toolkit

Aneesh Chopra, federal chief technology officer

Michael O'Connell | June 4, 2015 5:17 pm

Aneesh Chopra, the federal chief technology officer, is stepping down today from his post after more than 2-1/2 years in the Obama administration. He has spent much of his tenure pushing the idea of innovation.

Before his departure, though, Chopra unveiled a new Open Innovator’s Toolkit at a presentation this morning at the Center for American Progress. Watch below.

Prior to Wednesday’s event, Chopra told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin the toolkit takes some of the best ideas his office has seen work in federal agencies and scale these ideas across those agencies that haven’t implemented them yet.

“One of the most important things we can do is open up data, not just for those who seek it directly, but for secondary use,” he said. “We call this opening data for innovators and entrepreneurs.”

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At the event, Chopra said the toolkit includes 20 specific innovation techniques based on four principles:

  • Government agencies must start releasing data proactively rather than waiting for people to request it. Open data is the “active ingredient” in an “apps economy,” he said. Data is the “fuel that drives those jobs, and we’ve got lots of [data] in every federal agency,” he said.

    The toolkit also includes a set of techniques that has enabled data to be available in machine-readable form, not just technologically but also in policy via smart disclosure standards.

  • The government must act as an “impatient convener” through its policy of federal engagement in standards activities.
  • Agencies can use challenges, prizes or competitions to spur change. In his interview with The Federal Drive, Chopra pointed to the Education Department’s Race to the Top as one example.

    “We’ve applied this in technological areas, like Race to the Rooftop,” he said, describing the Energy Department’s solar energy adoption contest.

  • Agencies must attract top talent. Chopra’s office has also expanded its HR policies and tools in order to bring on board personnel with a more entrepreneurial background.

    “In the Food and Drug Administration, we’re in the middle of an entrepeneurs in residence program as well as a just announced one for our Citizenship and Immigration Service,” he said.

Making government more open

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One of the big challenges Chopra tackled in his tenure as CTO was how to make the federal government more open to its citizenry.

“It is difficult, to say the least, to invite the American people to participate in our democracy,” he said, recalling “public” meetings early on where rooms were packed with lobbyists and insiders.

“Thanks to technology, the modern communications and messaging platforms, it is near frictionless for folks to understand about a challenge and engage,” he said.

The latest application of this is the We the People petitioning platform that allows citizens to express their views at the click of a button and invite others to join them.

Look to the future

As he steps down, Chopra said he is positive about what he has been able to accomplish in his tenure as chief technology officer.

“I am very hopeful that the President’s national wireless initiative that really is the foundation for the next wave of economic growth on the Internet will be part of this tax extenders conversation in Congress,” Chopra said. “That allows us the resources to not just provide the infrastructure we need to connect nearly 98 percent of the American people to high-speed broadband, but also to make good on a promise that we made in the aftermath of 9-11, to deliver for our first responders a nationwide public safety network.”

He does admit to being of two minds whether or not to make the CTO’s position permanent through statute rather than leaving it up to future administrations to decide if one is needed. From his end, it’s been “terrific” to engage the President directly concerning issues not considered technology policy.

“Everything you’ve heard me talk about is really about the application of technology to advance our health, our energy, our education and other policy domains,” Chopra said. “Having a seat at the senior staff meeting allows us to bring those concepts to the highest levels to apply those in other areas.”

Federal News Radio’s Jolie Lee contributed to this story.


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