George Walker Bush was not known for his technological literacy, and observers have been speculating on how things will change with the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House.
The Washington Post led with an article about how old fashioned the White House technology was. The article said that two years after launching the most technologically-savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday.
If the Obama campaign represented a sleek, new Iphone kind of future, the first day of his administration looked more like the rotary-dial past. Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said his first day felt like going from an Xbox to an Atari.
David Almacy, who was Bush's internet director from 2005 to 2007, said that it took a week after his arrival at the White House to get set up with a computer and a Blackberry. However, Almacy blames simple logistics and red tape for the Obama team's problems. He said that bureaucracy is non-partisan, and that moving 3,000 people out and 3,000 people in is a Herculean task.
One of the biggest hurdles will be that the new White House staffers have to be conscious of the fact that everything they email is considered public property and subject to full disclosure under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978.
The law mandates that all an administration's written communication be archived. It must also be opened up to full Freedom of Information Act access five years after the end of an administration. David Gewirtz, the author of Where Have All The Emails Gone? has written extensively about the email procedures of the first and second Bush administrations. His fact-gathering doesn't gloss over past problems, as some bloggers have previously.
Since the White House is one of the most secure buildings in America, it is difficult to get a true inventory of the present facilities. Fox News wrote that former staffers said that the White House has everything a modern corporate office would - Windows XP, Blackberries, Outlook email, plenty of laptops, and lots of flatscreen monitors and TVs. Security is one of the primary goals for the administrators of the computer network in the White House.
We spoke with a Silicon Valley executive who has offices in Europe. He said that their laptops all meet the EU regulations for security, because they have personal information for their employees and customers on them. The UK government reported that between 2004 and 2007, 747 laptops were stolen and only 32 were recovered. This executive says they use Lojack for laptops software on all the units taken out of their office. Earlier, we reported on the success this product has shown for a school district. They recovered three of the six laptops stolen from their classrooms.
We are sure that no one in the new administration wants to repeat the error of the Veterans Administration. An executive took a laptop home with 26 million names and personal information on it. It was stolen.
Over the past twenty-four hours, it has become clear that the Obama staff will be working on Microsoft-based computers. Not the Apple OS X laptops they used during the election campaign. Gewirtz wrote in the “Anderson Cooper 360 degree” blog that president Obama will be getting a secure Blackberry with all the optional security features. The best guess by people who claim to know is that the new president may use the super-spooky National Dynamics Sectera Edge for official government business. The National Security Agency (NSA) has to approve anyone that will use this model.
Earlier on Thursday, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the president has a Blackberry through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends. Use will be limited, and the security is enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate, but to do so effectively, and to do so in a way that is protected.
Overall we would bet that within a month the new and old technology, as well as the people, will learn to get along with each other. In actuality, the first day was probably no worse than any new job at a new building. X