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Reforming the US tech economy

In address to Indian-Americans, Aneesh Chopra says the US is in danger of losing its competitive edge in technology.

The United States' first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, speaks at the CEA Line Shows conference in New York, June 11, 2009. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The speech began with a laugh when Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer of the United States, fouled up his slide presentation before 400 Silicon Valley executives.

“Who's the chief technology officer in this room,” joked Chopra, the first occupant of the office created by President Barack Obama to make the U.S. government, and the country's economy, more innovative.

Chopra, 37, was born in New Jersey to parents who emigrated from India. Together with his colleague, Vivek Kundra, Obama's chief information officer, Chopra symbolizes the growing prominence of Indian-Americans in the technology realm and the role they will play in setting White House policy.

The mainly Indian-American audience at Saturday's speech, which was sponsored by The Indus Entrepreneurs, a networking organization for Indian-Americans, welcomed him with pride.

“He is one of our own,” said TIE president Vish Mishra, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Mishra also quipped about the importance of Chopra's appearance in Silicon Valley, unofficial technology capital of the United States, if not the world.

“If you're Catholic, you've got to go to Rome,” Mishra said.

In his speech Chopra, who was secretary for technology in the state of Virginia before joining Obama, said the United States was in danger of losing its competitive edge in technology.

He cited a recent report titled “The Atlantic Century,” by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, that showed Singapore, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and South Korea ahead of the United States in overall competitiveness when it came to knowledge-based industries.

More worrisome, Chopra said the United States was the worst of 40 nation and regions surveyed at adapting its policies and systems in 25 areas — from education to investment to infrastructure — to encourage innovation and competitiveness.

“Ranking dead last around these 25 innovation metrics gives us a mandate for improvement,” he said.

Chopra said Obama's charge to him and Kundra, with whom he works closely, was to “harness the power and potential of technology and innovation to transform the nation's economy.”