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Awaiting Obama’s Second Web Act

The delay in appointing a CTO makes a technological overhaul of the federal government seem less likely.
February 11, 2009

On his second day in office, President Obama signed a memorandum on “Transparency and Open Government” in which he directed his chief technology officer, in coordination with the director of the office of management and budget and the administrator of general services, to make recommendations within 120 days on how to use technology to create a more open government.

Three weeks later, there’s just one little problem: Obama hasn’t appointed a chief technology officer. Considering how technology was placed at the center of his campaign–reshaping politics along the way–some observers are surprised that he isn’t more rapidly trying to adapt that lesson to the federal government.

“The campaign was successful at riding a wave of empowerment that technology has given Americans,” says Andrew Rasiej, founder of a widely read blog on politics and technology and of Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference. “It remains to be seen whether that wave of empowerment will be able to breach the wall of the federal bureaucracy.”

The delay itself speaks volumes, Rasiej says. He adds that if the appointee winds up not reporting directly to Obama, but rather to a cabinet member, it will be even worse. The danger, Rasiej says, is that “technology is viewed as an issue–‘health,’ ‘energy,’ ‘technology’–and thought of and budgeted as a vertical, as opposed to a platform that literally solves problems for all the different issue areas.”

To be sure, the president has some big issues on his plate, and it’s only been three weeks. Still, as Rasiej puts it, “One of the big problems is that every time there is a new administration, they start putting butts in seats based on the framework of the bureaucracy in the prior administration. A good question to ask here is, what would Google do?”

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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