Frustrations with the Public Sector

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print

Aneesh Chopra, the nation’s first CTO, intends to improve public access to government data, help bridge the ‘digital divide’ and overhaul the way that digital health records are stored.

You sound as if you get frustrated with that sometimes.

Chopra: Yeah, for those of us who like to act quickly, it can be frustrating. But, in the end, I appreciate the need to do things right. The expedient answer may feel better at first, but the long-term approach assures good decision making.

What accomplishments in Virginia are you most proud of?

Chopra: Actually, it’s an initiative that went into effect just after I left. We were able to begin reforming the way health care insurance contracts were run, to decouple the data and IT elements of contracts from the actual insurance services provided. Before, they were bundled together.

We’d have insurers trying to provide good health care as cost-efficiently as possible [that were] also dealing with the data. Now, there are two different vehicles for the data and the health care insurance services. It’s going to make the process more efficient and less costly. We started this as a prototype in Hampton Roads and hope it will expand statewide.

We also continued a program to expand broadband into rural areas. The settlement money from the Big Tobacco case of the 1990s was designated for this purpose, to give those in Virginia who grew up on tobacco farms an economic boost, to find other options for their livelihoods. It’s an $85 million investment, with 1,500 miles of open-access fiber deployment.

My role was to encourage the private sector use of these networks. One health care company in Lynchburg lowered telecommunications costs by 50 percent in the process.

What are the highlights of the first weeks of your federal role?

Chopra: We were able to make an immediate impact with our Open Government initiative. I was confirmed in May. Within hours, we were able to formally launch this, using Web-based tools that allow Americans to tell us how they’d like the president to conduct the business of open government.

We’ve launched social networking tools like voting features, a blog and comments. We allow users to draft their own vision of an open government plan, put that online and keep tinkering with it. This has produced results. The Department of Veterans Affairs captured ideas on how to improve the veterans’ benefits claims process online that will affect the work of 19,000 front-line workers.

What are your top priorities for your first year in office?

Chopra: The first is to adopt national IT health care standards. We’ve opened up an online forum so private companies involved can have a voice. We want American companies to come up with standards when it comes to data that comes from clinical operations, privacy, security and the reporting quality of health care services.

Then there are the continuing Open Government efforts. We want executives managing large-scale enterprises to have more access to information that can better position them to get government contract awards and increase their access to policy decisions that affect their business.

What are your top goals regarding cloud computing?

Chopra: The first priority is always security. We need to strengthen the capability of the cloud to protect information. Then, it needs to be interoperable, so that if I’m using a cloud and want to switch, it will be seamless.

We also need to make it easier for agencies and companies when it comes to the reusability of intellectual property. Information about projects should be able to be shared. There’s no reason why an agency in Virginia needs to come up with its own software code to account for the purchase of a snowplow, and then another agency in Vermont needs to do the same thing, instead of simply using the Virginia model.

What IT trends personally fascinate you?

Chopra: I love reading about emerging technology prototypes that we never could have imagined before. I recently read an article about how much more [information] you can access about health care now—and how you can use technology and Web 2.0 to improve your level of health care. There’s a site called PatientsLikeMe.com, in which patients upload all the details of their treatment and exchange information with other patients. It has created an expert peer network.

When you leave your post, what’s one thing you want to say you did?

Chopra: I’d like to be able to say that we started to transform the government into a front-end innovator instead of a back-end adopter. On topics like cloud computing and social networking, we’re ahead of the private sector in certain ways. We want to keep encouraging large enterprise managers to share what they’re doing with us and also share what we’re doing with them.

How personally connected are you? BlackBerry? iPhone? Facebook?

Chopra: All of the above—although I’m less active in social media now because of the White House rules on that sort of thing. I have a BlackBerry and an iPhone, though.

Who’s more connected: you or President Obama?

Chopra: He is! The president is always at the head of the pack.

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

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