Google CEO Says ‘No Thanks’ to Obama CTO Job

Barack Obama and Google CEO Eric Schmidt
President-elect Barack Obama and Google CEO Eric Schmidt
Source: Reuters

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has removed his name from the list of candidates for the job of government CTO that President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to create.

Appearing on the CNBC’s show “Mad Money with Jim Cramer,” Schmidt, who is serving as an economic adviser for Obama, told the host that he would not take the job if it were offered to him.

“I love working at Google, and I’m happy at Google, so the answer is no,” Schmidt said.

If Schmidt is to be taken at his word, that removes one of the top contenders for a position that — when announced by Obama in his campaign platform — sent a clear signal to many observers that technology would be a top priority in his administration.

It remains unclear exactly what form the job will take. In his technology plan, Obama said that the CTO’s mission would be to “ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.”

But Obama has also outlined an ambitious technology agenda, pledging to codify Net neutrality, improve broadband deployment, shore up online privacy and tackle a host of other issues, raising the question of how much of a role the CTO would play in shaping the administration’s policy decisions.

“I think the real issue is whether the person is going to be focusing on being a CTO or is it going to be a policy position,” said Lawrence Spiwak, president of the Phoenix Center, a Washington think tank focused on economic and telecommunications policy.

“Just as a general proposition, to make government work more efficiently, I think it’s a really great idea,” Spiwak, who previously served as a senior attorney with the Federal Communications Commission, told “It is a daunting task. That would be a great example of getting government to work more efficiently, if they can get someone as a network guy who actually understands how these systems work, and pull them together.”

With the transition still in its early stages, and until the scope of the position still unclear, compiling a short list remains a speculative affair.

“You have no idea who that person is going to be,” Spiwak said. “If it’s a true CTO position, I hope they get someone with CTO experience.”

If that’s how the position turns out, technology consultant Rob Enderle likes the chances of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HP) CTO Shane Robison.

“He is the best choice if the job really is a CTO job similar to other CTO jobs,” Enderle wrote in a recent column, pointing to Robison’s pivotal role in HP’s turnaround.

Enderle also likes the chances of Vint Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist who is widely credited as the father of the Internet, for co-inventing the TCP/IP protocols that send packets of information over the network.

Others on his short list include Al Gore and Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University and a founder of the Center for Internet and Society.

Additionally, Obama has leaned heavily on other luminaries during his campaign and in forming his transition team — some of whom are also seen as possibilities.

One potential candidate is Reed Hundt, the former FCC chairman who campaigned on behalf of Obama, as did Schmidt.

“Reed Hundt is clearly a power player,” Enderle told “He also has political chops, which will be critical to actually getting things done.”

Julius Genachowski, an economic adviser to Obama and cofounder of venture capital firm Rock Creek Ventures, is another Washington tech insider who also seems likely to be on the short list for the job.

Genachowski previously served as chief counsel to Hundt at the FCC, and was recently named to Obama’s transition team.

While neither has served as a CTO in private industry, Hundt and Genachowski bring something that could be extremely beneficial when taking on the monumental tasks of streamlining interagency operations and overseeing government contracting and procurement — two responsibilities likely to fall to the CTO.

“A good inside-the-Beltway network is always helpful when someone works in Washington, no matter what,” Spiwak said.

But Enderle sees Genachowski on the short list for another position that will be central to the tech issues Obama is likely to press.

“Julius Genachowski I like better to head the FCC because of his legal background and the mess he’ll likely have to deal with there,” he said. “As a personal friend of Obama, he is clearly someone who will remain close, whatever the role, and is one of the key indicators that technology is important to Obama.”

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