White House hires DJ Patil, jumps into the chief data officer pool

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The government’s fondness for adding chief data officers to the cadre of CXOs over the last six months has found its way to the White House.

The White House Wednesday named DJ Patil as the country’s first chief data scientist and deputy chief technology officer for data policy.

“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,” wrote federal CTO Megan Smith in a blog post. “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.”

The White House’s decision to bring in a chief data scientist is part of a growing trend among agencies. The Department of Transportation named Dan Morgan as its chief data officer in July. The Federal Communications Commission was one of the first agencies to hire a CDO. The Department of Energy recently hired its first CDO, and the Agriculture Department named Bobby Jones as its acting CDO, which means he or someone will be permanent in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce is in the final stages of hiring a CDO.

But hiring Patil as the first chief data scientist is a significant boost for the role.

The Obama administration’s interest in open data has been hot and cold. It launched several initiatives starting in 2009 and 2010, including Data.gov. But then the focus waned for a few years before the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) reinvigorated the open data movement by requiring agencies to help create an enterprise data inventory, and launching a dashboard to track open data progress.

Patil brings a resume to the White House that is steeped in big data and includes some federal experience.

He served as the vice president of product at RelateIQ, which Salesforce acquired. Patil also worked at LinkedIn, Greylock Partners, Skype, PayPal and eBay.

Prior to his work in the private sector, Patil “worked at the Department of Defense, where he directed new efforts to bridge computational and social sciences in fields like social network analysis to help anticipate emerging threats to the United States.”

Additionally, when he was a doctoral student and faculty member at the University of Maryland, Patil used open data from NOAA to improve numerical weather forecasting.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland College Park.

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