With months left in President Barack Obama's term, top White House officials made a plea to commercial tech professionals: Join the federal government, even if briefly.

Kicking off a White House Open Data Summit in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott pitched techies on a "tour of duty," asking them to join tech teams such as 18F, the U.S. Digital Service, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program for short rotations. 

Just as doctors might join the federal government to serve as surgeon generals, more techies could join the government not only in development roles but also in policy advisory roles, Smith said. She cited a recent Anne-Marie Slaughter column discussing technology "triathletes," who can rotate between the commercial tech world, civic and nonprofit organizations, and the government. 

Earlier this year, the president attended the South by Southwest technology and music festival in Texas to attract startup types to the federal government. Obama asked, "how can we start coming up with new platforms, new ideas, new approaches across disciplines and across skill sets to solve some of the big problems that we’re facing today?" The White House next week will host its own version of the festival, called South By South Lawn.

Aside from recruiting, the White House's challenge is to bring “South-by-Southwest, collaborative, cross-functional everyone-at-the-table methods to government," Smith said at the Open Data Summit. 

The federal government also currently faces an IT "scale problem," spending about $80 billion on products and services each year, but "most of us agree it costs too much for what we're getting out of it," Scott said.