Tech chief: Poor performance, lagging innovation 'catalyzed' Obama WH into action

Poor performance in a host of technology-related areas is what "catalyzed" President Barack Obama's early push for tech innovation, the White House's top tech adviser stressed Tuesday.

At an event hosted by The Atlantic, Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra said both federal and state governments have long been dogged by poor marks in online government services, education advancements and tech industry improvements.

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Those scores only highlight the fact the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in areas it once dominated, he continued. But while Chopra later admitted those absolute rankings mean far less than a country's rate of progress between years, he ultimately said those numbers, too, showed the United States in decline, prompting the White House to take action.

"Now, one would expect mathematically that if you're number one, the marginal rate of improvement on a given indicator would be low, and if you're at the bottom of the heat, you could see bigger gains," he said. "Unfortunately, we were not number one on these key indicators..."

Chopra later said the lack of progress was especially pronounced in measures of academic achievement. Far fewer Americans today have advanced degrees than in years past, he explained, noting that produced a tough barrier for innovation.

"[One indicator] the president has often cited is one of the most important for our global competitiveness: the rate of our college graduates amongst our adult population," he said.

But studies routinely show that fewer Americans are seeking those degrees, Chopra noted.

"We had been number one for decades, but we are flat, folks, Going back to decades; relatively flat," he emphasized, adding the president hoped to return to No. 1 by 2020.

Chopra later described the the United States' performance at providing government services online -- e-government -- as similarly lagging.

"You would think we lead the world in e-government," he said, but he noted that the country until recent had suffered from low marks in measure of online services.

Consequently, Chopra said these alarming indicators prompted the new White House as early as January 2009 to commit more heavily to innovation -- a job, Chopra seemed to recognize, that was far from complete.

"All of this to be said, these benchmarking statistics as we came into the administration catalyzed the president's call for a new vision of the American economy," he said.