By Yaël Ossowski / March 19, 2015 / Watchdog.org
In his first month on the job, the nation’s chief data scientist DJ Patil has been busy assigning Americans some homework.
As part of his effort to celebrate Pi Day (3.14.15), Patil conjured up a geometry question for Americans to solve.
“Imagine you have a rope snug all the way around the equator of the Earth. Now you need to add some rope so that the rope is 2 inches above
the ground all the way around,” Patil wrote Saturday on the White House blog . “How much rope do you need to add? Not sure? Well grab some paper, a slice of pie for fuel, and give the math a try!”
If this seems like a perplexing role for a federal employee to be filling, you’d be right.
How did a bright technologist get swept up from the private sector to being the White House’s science cheerleader?
He’s the newest employee
in the White House’s the Office of Science and Technology Policy,
serving as the nation’s chief data scientist and deputy chief
technological officer for data policy.
It’s a role seemingly unclear and not yet transparent, despite Patil’s efforts to explain his job. He says he will help “provide maximum social return on federal data.”
Combing through Patil’s White House blog archives,
he’s mostly used his presence to champion for science facts and
equations. That’s hardly a difficult task for a science-minded
But Patil is no ordinary government employee. He’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of Big Data.
He’s got the street cred. For years, Patil helped build up the data
processes at LinkedIn and Greylock Partners. More than that, he once
hung his hat at Skype, eBay and PayPal. He even coined the term “data scientist,” which now has the distinction of being an important role in the federal government with direct access to the president.
Most importantly, he helped the U.S. military analyze social media in order to “anticipate emerging threats,” according to his Greylock bio, helping foster a model used by other government agencies such as the National Security Agency.
He cut his teeth
looking into data of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. And he’s looking to expand every data set the federal
government has in its arsenal, according to his first “Memo to the American People.”
What will these data processes mean for everyday Americans’
interactions with the federal government? Will citizens be required to
submit to Washington’s thirst for Big Data?
Patil’s office did not respond to Watchdog.org’s request for comment.
If it’s anyone’s guess, Patil will be right at home in the Obama
White House. He sold his start-up RelateIQ to the data management
website Salesforce for $390 million, the same software used by the Obama campaign to secure his place in the White House.
It’s unclear exactly how much this millionaire will be paid by the federal government.
According to the 2015 U.S. federal budget,
the Office of Science and Technology Policy was allocated $6 million,
split among 32 employees. On average, that would mean each employee is
paid a yearly salary of $187,500.
Considering Patil’s experience and perceived value as a data expert, it’s certain to be much higher.