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Who will be king of the Geeks?

The technology leader of the free world will be named soon

Now that the U.S. election is finally over, all that’s left are about a zillion new government appointments. But I know the denizens of Cringeville are particularly interested in one post above all: who the new administration will call to serve as the nation’s first CTO.

Whoever it is, the job won’t be pretty. CNET’s Dan Farber lists some of the challenges facing any potential CTO, not least of which is coordinating all the other federal CTOs:

Just creating and implementing a coherent technology plan and policy for the numerous agencies under the Department of Homeland Security is an incredibly daunting task for a CTO. The DHS Directorate of Science and Technology, for example, has a budget of [US]$830 million. It has 250 projects in process and 50 per cent of them are expected to fail, according to Jay Cohen, Under Secretary for Science and Technology for the DHS.

Only 50 per cent? That’s wildly optimistic, don’t you think?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said no, thanks. He is already Master of the Universe, so it’s hard to imagine him taking a demotion. At the Web 2.0 conference last week, VC doyenne John Doerr nominated Sun co-founder Bill Joy and AI maven Danny Hillis. I’m not sure I’d trust anything VCers say these days.

BusinessWeek published its own speculative short list last month; it includes (God help us) Steve Ballmer, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Internet Deity Vint Cerf, and Princeton researcher/Freedom to Tinker blogger Ed Felten.

(Can you imagine Ballmer roaming the halls of the White House? I think the cost in office chairs alone would bankrupt us. I can’t see Bezos leaving Amazon at this point; it’s his baby and it’s just barely old enough to qualify for a driver’s permit. Ditto for Felten — he’s a brilliant guy, but like most gadflies, he seems to operate better outside the system, not mired at its center. Cerf seems like a better call, but his controversial stewardship of ICANN makes some folks a little wary.)

There are a few other obvious candidates, of course.

Bill Gates. Now that his career as a Windows pitchman is over, Gates is left running his own charitable foundation. How boring is that? Though genetically Republican, he’s sure to leap at the chance of rebooting Washington (again and again and again). The question is, will he insist on calling his job the United States Chief Technology Officer Ultimate Business Edition Live 1.0?

Al Gore. Sure, he invented the Internet, but can he get the White House e-mail system to work properly? Even if he were qualified, he wouldn’t want the job; he’s too busy saving the planet one polar bear at a time.

Nicholos Negroponte. The Papa of the $188 One Laptop Per Child project is more of a politician than most geeks: He’s better at promising things than delivering them, and everything ends up costing twice as much as it was supposed to. He’d fit right in inside the Beltway.

But enough about what I think. Who do you want to be our CTO? Name your picks and e-mail them to me: cringe@infoworld.com. I’ll run them up the flagpole in a future blog post — unless Obama beats me to it.