SF CIO Heads to White House as Deputy CTO for Innovation

Chris Vein has pioneered open-source and open-data initiatives in the City by the Bay. Now he's taking his vision for a more transparent and collaborative government to Washington.

If you follow Gov 2.0 issues, you’ve heard of Chris Vein, San Francisco's first-ever CIO, who has spent the last five years leading the charge to move the city toward open-source software and open data. Now Vein is heading to Washington as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer, where he'll work under Aneesh Chopra at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and focus on government innovation.

In San Francisco, Vein pushed the city to consider an "open-source first" policy, meaning if an open source solution was available, the city should give that option as serious consideration as any commercial product. And last fall, he succeeded in getting the city to pass an Open Data law--the first for any municipality in the country--requiring San Francisco's departments and agencies to make city data available to the public (assuming doing so wouldn't violate privacy and other requirements).

Vein had both public sector (the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton White Houses) and private sector experience before going to work for San Francisco ten years ago. His goal as CIO has been to make the city more "transparent, accountable, and collaborative." After he got the city to release about 150 datasets to the public, private individuals and organizations built dozens of applications on top of them, including ones that let people see crime trends, plot routes on public transportation, and find places to recycle household items.

Vein has said the purpose of his Gov 2.0 efforts is to essentially change the way government gets done. In an interview with GovFresh last fall, Vein said that, instead of perpetuating the "vending machine" model of government, in which people put in money and expect something to come out, Vein said he wanted people to start seeing government as a platform on which they could build their own solutions.

Vein has made great strides in San Francisco, but we should probably keep our expectations modest if we're hoping for any immediate radical changes at the federal level. In the interview with GovFresh, Vein was asked what it takes to be innovative in government. His answer? "Patience."

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E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter. Email.

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