Skip to content

Obama and Technology

As many of you know, President-elect Obama plans on having a Chief Technology Officer position in his administration. Many moons ago I tried to track down the tech policies of the various candidates. At that time only Ron Paul had one (yes it really was that early in the campaign). Luckily over the course of the campaign season, other pieced together the candidate’s positions. And now we even have Obama’s policy paper available.

The folks over at Freedom to Tinker have a nice analysis of the paper. And the paper that Tinkerers David Robinson, Harlan Yu, Bill Zeller, and Ed Felten wrote, Government Data and the Invisible Hand seems to match at least part of the Obama technology platform. Still the paper argues that the ideas and problems regarding putting government information online are old. The crucial matter is how it one puts the information on line.

The NPR interview talks about “best of breed of technology” and “working with private tech firms” to import “the best applications to run federal government” and making the government more transparent. It plays a clip from Obama’s speech to Google where he states that a universally accessible format for information will be used. So, what does that all mean? I am not sure. In the happiest of worlds, the administration is taking its cue from the Paper. But given the language of “best applications” and private tech firms, one should not be surprised that tech firms will try to be the provider of choice to the government. That point returns us to the paper.

As it argues:

In order for public data to benefit from the same innovation and dynamism that characterize private parties’ use of the Internet, the federal government must reimagine its role as an information provider. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that “exposes” the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.

For all I know, Obama’s people are talking to the folks who wrote the paper. If so, great. If not, they should.

As a side note I hope the Freedom to Tinker folks don’t mind the Tinkerer moniker. It is a nod to an old Economist article. Nonetheless, if you all reject the name, give a shout and I will get rid of it.