Thursday, January 29, 2009

My President is a Tech Geek

Yesterday I went to a talk by a member Obama's technology transition team. It was totally fascinating for a number of reasons, many of which are discussed in this video.

The Campaign
Apparently, in Silicon Valley, Hilary had the support of almost all the telecom companies, while Obama had the internet companies. What this means is that, while the two might not have really differed on the issues, their advisors did. Now that Obama is in the White House, the internet companies have a bit of a leg up (though the telecoms did throw their support to him after the primaries), and, as such, his technology initiatives are more forward-looking (so says I, Silicon Valley-ite that I now am). At the very least, you'll likely hear more about the intertubes than the telecomwires.

The Message
The Obama administration is really into cloud-based computing, which presents exciting possibilities - though I'm not sure how it will square with security concerns. Obama plans to name both a CIO and a CTO. The CIO will be in charge of internal IT systems for the government, while the CTO sounds like it will be more like the surgeon general - an evangelist for his or her area of expertise. The CTO will develop pilot projects and push the public technology agenda. This sounds like a freaking awesome job.

The Intended Result
The goals of moving into the cloud: to get citizens more involved in decision making, to get info out onto the web proactively (i.e. before a citizen has to file to make a report public), to be more efficient, and to promote cross-agency work. The efficiency issue alone would be a huge task - right now the federal government spends 70 billion dollars a year on IT, and it buys us outdated software and inadequate computing power. It's absolutely ridiculous.

On the proactive provision of public information: this was one of the first items that Obama tackled - on the 21st, no less.

To get more people involved in government decisions, the Obama administration plans to use technology to facilitate policy discussions. Por ejemplo: The Citizen's Briefing Book. Apparently the pro-pot lobby got super involved in this, causing the results to show that marijuana legalization is America's #1 priority. Not exactly representative, and item #2 in my case against direct democracy (item #1 being California and its knee-jerk propositions). 

All in all, pretty damn impressive.

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