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February 24, 2015

U.S. Names First Chief Data Scientist

George Leopold

An industry veteran and college math professor who is partially credited with coining the title “data scientist” has been named the nation’s first chief data scientist.

The White House announced the appointment of DJ Patil to the new post last week. Patil also will serve as the Obama administration’s deputy chief technology officer for data policy, the White House said.

Patil most recently served as a vice president at RelateIQ, a customer relationship management specialist acquired by Salesforce in July 2014. Prior to that stint, he worked for a long list of social media and other tech companies, including LinkedIn, PayPal and Skype. He also served as a data scientist with Greylock Partners, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Patil’s government experience includes a stint at the Defense Department as a science and technology fellow. He directed Pentagon efforts “to bridge computational and social sciences in fields like social network analysis to help anticipate emerging threats to the United States,” the White House said in announcing the appointment.

As chief data scientist, Patil will be tasked with helping to shape U.S. data policy while forging partnerships with industry to leverage the U.S. government’s substantial investment in data collection and analysis. The White House said Patil would initially concentrate on the Obama administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative that seeks to leverage advances in data and health care to provide clinicians with analytical tools for selecting the most appropriate treatments.

That health care initiative also has a data privacy component, which is likely to be another major focus of Patil’s tenure as concerns grow over the misuse of patient data.

Along with data privacy issues, Patil also is expected to oversee the administration’s open data efforts that are viewed as an emerging engine of economic growth.

Patil has long experience working with government datasets. As a doctoral student and faculty member at the University of Maryland, he used datasets published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help improve numerical weather forecasting.

NOAA satellite and other meteorological data have since been used to deliver weather forecasts to mobile phones along with GPS and other geospatial data applications.

Along with a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland, Patil holds bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California at San Diego.

Patil’s appointment also gave the administration an opportunity to take credit for making more than 138,000 government datasets publicly available under its open data initiative. The datasets range from U.S. agricultural and trade statistics to climate and emergency preparedness information.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration appointed former VMware executive Tony Scott to be the next U.S. chief information officer. Patil also will work with Megan Smith, the White House chief technology officer. Smith is a former Google vice president.

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