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White House names Todd Park as U.S. chief technology officer

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The White House on Friday named Todd Park as U.S. chief technology officer, a post that came with high expectations when it was created in 2009, but has produced questionable outcomes, analysts say.

Park, who oversaw technology for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, replaces Aneesh Chopra, the first to hold the post.

Park launched healthcare.gov at HHS, a site that allows consumers to compare health insurance plans. In his new role, Park will work to reduce bloated IT budgets and push for initiatives that use technology to make government information more easily available to the public.

“He was a hugely energetic force for positive change. He led the successful execution of an array of breakthrough initiatives,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Park is a former entrepreneur who in 1997 founded Athenahealth, an electronic health records provider. He also worked as a health-care industry consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton.

As U.S. CTO, Park will work within the Office of Science and Technology Police but won’t have a budget or large staff.

The White House’s chief information officer, Steven VanRoekel, is already tasked with streamlining the $80 billion annual federal budget on technology. And the Obama administration has a tech policy arm working out of the Commerce Department that advises on Internet privacy and implements broadband stimulus programs.

Which leads some to wonder, what exactly does the nation’s CTO do?

At corporations, a CTO guides big-picture tech strategy and oversees a staff of engineers to deliver that goal. It’s unclear how much latitude Obama’s CTO has to influence policy or executive federal IT goals.

When Obama promised during his presidential campaign to create the role, many thought that a Silicon Valley executive or Internet visionary would be picked to lead the charge on Web policies such as net neutrality and privacy.

“Obama made a big deal out of this during his election, so at first the initiative seemed to be political,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the SunLight Foundation.

Chopra initially weighed in on those topics but without many specific recommendations. Throughout much of his three years as CTO, he advocated in speeches for improvements in the way agencies use technology. He also supported moving federal agency computer servers to the cloud and helped create a White House Web site dashboard so Americans could get more information from their government.

But those tasks were largely executed by U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, experts said.

“I don’t know what was originally intended. I think it was somewhat vague from the beginning, possibly intentionally so, and perhaps necessarily so,” said Charles Firestone, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program.

Indeed, getting agencies to agree on Internet policies has proven difficult. The National Security Agency has pushed for greater control and monitoring of corporate computer systems to ward off cyberattacks but the White House and Justice Department have rebuffed such efforts as an affront to privacy.

And advancements at some agencies in getting records online haven’t reaped the cost savings that the administration had hoped, some experts say.

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