Team Obama’s Change.gov — abuzz about how it was created — and how difficult change in government is
Change in government is difficult. Team Obama is going to find that out. In the meantime, they are doing a good job of doing — and asking for permission later.
One example is Team Obama’s transition Web site, Change.gov. They are already doing some very innovative things such as the feature that lets you ask a question. There are some bureaucratic issues raised here. For example, the Change.gov “open for questions” feature uses Google’s Google Moderator application to let people post questions — and rate other people’s questions.
A brief aside: We spoke to Katie Jacobs Stanton, principal of Google’s new development team on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris recently. She told us about Google Moderator — what it is and how it can be used. Hear that conversation here.
(I should note that if you listen to our Daily Debrief conversation about Google Moderator, we did not get into these issues with Stanton. I specifically agreed to that beforehand — and said so on air — because these issues are not Google issues. They are issues that need to be addressed by Team Obama. And I have requests in, but, as you might imagine, they are not top issues for the transition team.)
So I think the change.gov Web site could be a microcosm of how difficult change is in government.
Specifically, I’m hearing that GSA, which is responsible for getting the transition team set up, is getting pings with FOIA requests of people seeking information about how change.gov came about. Michelle Malkin, who is apparently a conservative blogger, has received access to some of the FOIAed documents and her take is that there is something wicked afoot.
Last month that I blogged several questions about the propriety of allowing the perpetual Obama campaign to use a .gov domain name for what appeared to be a fund-raising front. Readers and industry observers noted that the decision appeared to violate General Services Administration rules governing government domains.
Guess what? They were right. The FOIA documents sent to Lance O., which he forwarded to me, reveal that the GSA initially rejected Obama’s application for “Change.gov.” On Oct. 21, Peter Alterman, Deputy Associate Administrator of Technology Strategy at the GSA, denied the Obama campaign’s request for a government domain because:
1) It would be a a violation of the government’s naming conventions (too generic); and
2) using ‘change’ in the domain name would be political, since it was the trademark slogan of the Obama campaign.
The day after the election, on Nov. 5, GSA Chief Information Officer Casey Coleman overruled Alterman after apparently receiving a waiver from Chris Lu, Executive Director of Obama’s Transition Project. As reader Lance discovered through his FOIA request, Ms. Coleman did not elaborate on the granting of this waiver except to say that she had “determined that it is in the best interest of the Federal Government to register the subject domain name.”
TechPresident has its take — they aren’t nearly as concerned.
I’m generally not that suspicious nor cynical, so, unless proven otherwise, I don’t see any nefariousness here. That being said, GSA and Team Obama would do well to have some transparency here — make theseFOIAed documents available on GSA’s FOIA online reading room Web site. (Most agencies don’t actively use their FOIA electronic reading rooms. GSA’s, for example, is fairly awful. If something is there, it is hard to find. But GSA is not alone here. Most agencies make these reading rooms difficult to find — and often don’t post much information. It has always baffled me. In the age of transparency, why not post just about every request an agency gets unless there is a reason not posting it?)
Back to the subject at hand — there are a whole host of issues here — some complex and dictated by existing law, and some still complex and dictated by the way government has always done business.
I, for one, am happy that Team Obama is reaching out and trying new things, new ways to involving citizens, new ways to be transparent. Shouldn’t that really be the goal anyway? Yes, these laws, rules and regulations are important, but they should serve the public, not the other way around. Times are changing, and government needs to be a part of that change.