An example of how complicated relations with the White House can be: When Farber was at the FCC during the Clinton presidency, he said he was invited to a meeting with then vice president Al Gore. FCC officials initially told Farber not to go, and "that the White House cannot tell you to show up there, and we're an independent agency." But after Farber said the message was addressed to him as a professor, the response from FCC higher-ups was: "Good -- go, tell us what's going on."
A federal CTO will function more like a facilitator -- someone who can set a general direction, said Farber. But it will be critical for the person in that position to have access to the president if he/she is to have real authority, he said. Obama's appointment will also need a lot of technical credibility and ability to coordinate among agencies.
This ability to coordinate and work with varying semi-independent agencies, is something Karen Evans , as well as her predecessors, has done. Evans, who is considered the de facto federal CIO, has an official title of administrator of the office of electronic government and information technology, has used her role to push agencies to standardize, increase online capabilities and improve security. Sometimes that means striking at the right opportunity.
In 2007, the White House used the possibility to that some agencies might move to Windows Vista , to insist on standard security configurations for Vista and XP and required software vendors to ensure their products were shipped with those configurations. "If we don't take and seize upon this opportunity to standardize, a thousand flowers will bloom, and we'll be back to where we were," said Evans, in an earlier interview.
Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.