White House officially names first U.S. chief data scientist

The White House is stacking up on Silicon Valley heavyweights as it wrangles its cyber data and security policies.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Taking a page from Silicon Valley heavyweights, the White House continues to poach some of the most experienced and sought-after tech veterans in the industry.

The latest addition is Dr. DJ Patil, who was officially announced on Wednesday as the first U.S. chief data scientist as well as deputy chief technology officer, serving under former Googler and now U.S. CTO Megan Smith.

Patil most recently served as vice president of product at big data startup RelateIQ, which was acquired by Salesforce.com last summer.

Other tech bullet points on Patil's resumé include LinkedIn, Greylock Partners, Skype, PayPal, and eBay.

Patil has some prior experience in the public sector as well, including a stint at the U.S. Department of Defense, where he directed projects bridging computational and social sciences to help anticipate emerging threats to the United States.

Smith elaborated about Patil's role in a blog post, noting Patil will work with both the U.S. Digital Service and the U.S. CIO's office amid spearheading initiatives around open data and data science.

Smith added:

As Chief Data Scientist, DJ will help shape policies and practices to help the U.S. remain a leader in technology and innovation, foster partnerships to help responsibly maximize the nation's return on its investment in data, and help to recruit and retain the best minds in data science to join us in serving the public. DJ will also work on the Administration's Precision Medicine Initiative, which focuses on utilizing advances in data and health care to provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients, while protecting patient privacy.

Smith herself moved to Washington last fall, resigning from her previous role as vice president of Google's top secret Google X research lab to take over the reins from then-U.S. CTO Todd Park.

Smith has been tasked with guiding President Obama's information technology policy initiatives, which at the time was defined to include accelerating "attainment of the benefits of advanced information and communications technologies across every sector of the economy and aspect of human well-being."

Earlier this month, the Obama administration hired a new chief information officer too. That job went to VMware's CIO Tony Scott.

Scott joined the virtualization giant in 2013 to oversee the company's global information technology group. Prior to VMware, Scott served as chief information officer at both Microsoft and The Walt Disney Company.

As noted by ZDNet's Michael Krigsman last fall, the U.S. CIO stands in the unique position of being a national policy leader as well as an operational executive overseeing an IT budget nearing $80 million.

Just last Friday, President Obama made a more public push on the cyber-security front with an all-day summit in the heart of Silicon Valley at Stanford University.

One of the key points on the agenda saw the President signing an executive order allowing private companies and technology firms to share more cyber-threat data with each other and government agencies.

The proclamation comes in the wake of recent high profile hacks against Sony Pictures and health insurance firm Anthem.

Nevertheless, despite a keynote speech by Apple CEO Tim Cook, chief executives from several other major technology corporations declined to attend despite invitations sent out weeks in advance.

Senior security staffers from the invited companies -- namely Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft -- attended instead, fostering speculation about the widening rift between tech companies and the federal government since the NSA scandal erupted in June 2013.

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