CTO Aneesh Chopra a celebrity at CES

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LAS VEGAS--At a convention that attracts the biggest Silicon Valley investors and boldest technology executives from around the world, a U.S. government official emerged as an unlikely rock star.

Aneesh Chopra, federal chief technology officer, covered his usual talking points during a discussion with Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro. He talked about the importance of addtional spectrum to the administration's goal of achieving universal broadband access. He also said the government has a role to play in making sure the regulatory environment can increase innovation in education, health care and energy reform.

Shortly after, I spotted him on the show floor, getting a demonstration at the LG booth. I apparently wasn't the only one who noticed him. He was immediately bombarded by cameras and people wanting to shake his hand and have their picture taken with him.

Chopra suavely flashed his smile and made small talk with his fans before he was whisked away to another company's display.

His popularity-- and the fact that people recognized him in the first place-- underscores Washington's heightened profile in the technology world. In the past, companies were typically more interested in getting in front of a millionaire investor rather than a federal employee who--gasp!--has never seen 3-D television before.

The Recovery Act made the government the biggest spender on innovation last year. While the verdict is still out as to whether or not all that spending will pay off, it's interesting to see the renewed awareness of the government's influence over "the next big thing."

Photo: Chopra, center, greets his adoring fans on the show floor.