|A month or so ago the question of whether the next president should have a CTO came up in a work conversation among a diverse group of tech policy folks. We all agreed that the title is nice, but you would need to establish and delineate real power for it. Of course, the best way to do this would be to create a cabinet position for technology and innovation. People rolled their eyes at this until it was reminded to them that we do have a Secretary of Agriculture.
Sean Garrett, The Case for a National CTO
It’s about time the White House acknowledged that we’ve moved from the agrarian age to the information age. Having a national CTO is a great idea — I bet that we could learn a lot about pitfalls from going back and learning how the position of Secretary of Agriculture came about. First, we’ll need to define what a CTO’s responsibilities are. (At some companies right now, the CTO reports to the CIO — at others, the CIO reports to the CTO.) Then we’ll need to decide whether the CTO should actually have experience in technology or whether he/she should come from business.
On May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established the independent Department of Agriculture to be headed by a Commissioner without cabinet status. Lincoln called it the “people’s department”. In the 1880s, varied special interest groups were lobbying for Cabinet representation. Business interests sought a Department of Commerce and Industry. Farmers tried to raise the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet rank. In 1887, the House and Senate passed bills giving cabinet status to the Department of Agriculture and Labor, but farm interests objected to the addition of labor, and the bill was killed in conference. Finally, on February 9, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law elevating the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet level.