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Hearing from the creator of… and more on the Obama CTO

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I mentioned earlier the innovative Web site where you can make suggestions for the new, yet-to-be-named (or even defined) Obama chief technology officer, which the WP Friday called “most talked-about tech job in government is one that never before existed.”

Friday on the Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke with Matt Lerner, the CTO of Front Seat out in Seattle, who created Its important to note that is independent of the Obama transition team. Lerner and I had a wonderful pre-radio conversation about why he created the site. I understand that I focus on this stuff intensely — and there are many in this community, but a young guy in Seattle? It’s great that this stuff is touching people out there.

You can hear our conversation with Lerner here.

On Friday, we also spoke to Eric Lundquist, the editor in chief of eWeek, who argues that the CTO should actually be a CIO. You can hear that conversation here.

Finally, on Tuesday Monday on The Big Show, we’re going to talk to CJD-fav Andrew McAfee, an assoiate professor at the Harvard Business School and the person credited with the term ‘enterprise 2.0.’ He just did a post headlined What This Country Needs is a Chief Technology Officer .

The precise job description is not yet clear, but how could it be? Technology’s role in American society is boundaryless and constantly increasing, so delineating the CTO’s role is going to be hard. Is it confined to information and communications technology, or should also include other blossoming flields like energy and life sciences? And is the mission to make policy, to allocate resources via something like a venture capital fund, to take control of large portions of the federal government’s IT spending and personnel, and/or to to be an advocate for enlightened use of technology in both the private and public sectors?

Written by cdorobek

November 16, 2008 at 11:56 AM

The DorobekInsider Obama reader — Part One… some of the tea leaves

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In a presidential race that has gone on for nearly two years, there has been a lot written about these candidates — and particularly President-elect Barack Obama. That being said, despite our best attempts, there has not been all that much written about what it is going to mean to government other then to say that he wanted to make government service cool again.

One of the things that will be particularly interesting is how the Obama administration uses technology.

The administration has posted a technology policy, which was posted on the candidates site. And, in fact, press reports have noted that President-elect Barack Obama’s Web site already taps into the social networking aspects by asking people for their stories… and their hopes and concerns.

But perhaps we can learn how the Obama administration might manage by looking at how the campaign won its campaign.

One of the better stories I read was in the September/October 2008 issue of MIT’s Technology Review.

How Obama Really Did It
The social-networking strategy that took an obscure senator to the doors of the White House.

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign manager and Internet impresario, describes Super Tuesday II–the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island–as the moment Barack Obama used social tech­nology to decisive effect. The day’s largest hoard of dele­gates would be contested in Texas, where a strong showing would require exceptional discipline and voter-education efforts. In Texas, Democrats vote first at the polls and then, if they choose, again at caucuses after the polls close. The caucuses award one-third of the Democratic delegates.

Hillary Clinton’s camp had about 20,000 volunteers at work in Texas. But in an e-mail, Trippi learned that 104,000 Texans had joined Obama’s social-­networking site,, known as MyBO. MyBO and the main Obama site had already logged their share of achievements, particularly in helping rake in cash. The month before, the freshman senator from Illinois had set a record in American politics by garnering $55 million in donations in a single month. In Texas, MyBO also gave the Obama team the instant capacity to wage fully networked campaign warfare. After seeing the volunteer numbers, Trippi says, “I remember saying, ‘Game, match–it’s over.'”

The Obama campaign could get marching orders to the Texans registered with MyBO with minimal effort. The MyBO databases could slice and dice lists of volunteers by geographic micro­region and pair people with appropriate tasks, including prepping nearby voters on caucus procedure. “You could go online and download the names, addresses, and phone numbers of 100 people in your neighborhood to get out and vote–or the 40 people on your block who were undecided,” Trippi says. “‘Here is the leaflet: print it out and get it to them.’ It was you, at your computer, in your house, printing and downloading. They did it all very well.” Clinton won the Texas primary vote 51 to 47 percent. But Obama’s ­people, following their MyBO playbook, so overwhelmed the chaotic, crowded caucuses that he scored an overall victory in the Texas delegate count, 99 to 94. His showing nearly canceled out ­Clinton’s win that day in Ohio. Clinton lost her last major opportunity to stop the Obama juggernaut. “In 1992, Carville said, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,'” Trippi says, recalling the exhortation of Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville. “This year, it was the network, stupid!”

The story mostly focuses on the campaign, but… it also addresses governing.

If Obama is elected, his Web-oriented campaign strategy could carry over into his presidency. He could encourage his supporters to deluge members of Congress with calls and e-mails, or use the Web to organize collective research on policy questions. The campaign said in one of its prepared statements that “it’s certain that the relationships that have been built between Barack Obama and his supporters, and between supporters themselves, will not end on Election Day.” But whether or not a President Obama takes MyBO into the West Wing, it’s clear that the phenomenon will forever transform campaigning. “We’re scratching the surface,” Trippi says. “We’re all excited because he’s got one million people signed up–but we are 300 million people in this country. We are still at the infancy stages of what social-­networking technologies are going to do, not just in our politics but in everything. There won’t be any campaign in 2012 that doesn’t try to build a social network around it.”

Lessig warns that if Obama wins but doesn’t govern according to principles of openness and change, as promised, supporters may not be so interested in serving as MyBO foot soldiers in 2012. “The thing they [the Obama camp] don’t quite recognize is how much of their enormous support comes from the perception that this is someone different,” Lessig says. “If they behave like everyone else, how much will that stanch the passion of his support?”

Read the full story here. [registration required]

The Obama campaign even created an iPhone application, Technology Review reported.

In the same issue of Technology Review, there is this story:

Does the U.S. Need a CTO?
Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of personal computing, says the position is vital given the growing importance of technology.

Advertising Age magazine named Barack Obama as the “marketer of the year” as a result of the campaign’s ability to tap into data.

Adaptable Team Stays on Message While Using Social Networking to Build Voter Roles

Detractors may mock Barack Obama these days as a celebrity, a candidate who promises little more than vague abstractions such as “hope” and “change.” But no one should forget that he usurped the inevitable Clinton machine and has been considered the man to beat in this election.

Not too shabby for an African-American, first-term Democratic senator from Illinois (with the funny-sounding name) who was considered a long shot when Election 2008 got off to an early start back in 2006.

How did he do it? The first step was taking the lessons learned from the Howard Dean campaign four years ago and turning them into internet-based fundraising that stunned Democrats and Republicans alike. In the most obvious example of what happened, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who thought that by sewing up the party’s biggest fundraisers she had closed out rivals, found not only that it didn’t matter but that the old way of raising money couldn’t compete with the new way.

That new way didn’t simply use e-mail to complement direct mail and other old-fashioned methods. The Obama campaign tapped into the latest developments of social networking. It hired Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook. What the team ended up creating wasn’t simply a way to earn more money from small donors than previously thought possible; it created an Obama-specific network that took advantage of and built upon the movement-like quality of the Obama campaign. By the time other candidates on either side of the aisle got around to copying, they were too late to the party.

Read the full story here.

There are many more, but this is a start.

Written by cdorobek

November 11, 2008 at 3:28 PM

Posted in Transition, Web 2.0, White House

Tagged with

Get ready — change is coming to Washington

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Even the most cynical out there had to be touched to a certain degree by the electoral results. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his policies, it is a remarkable moment to think that a African American has been selected to serve as the President of the United States.

I mentioned yesterday that I have received many calls from family and friends around the country who say how exciting it must be to be at the political epicenter at this point in time. But in actuality, for the past year, people have been running against Washington. But come Wednesday, Washington, D.C. is once again the epicenter — and the topic is transition. And the topic is what change will mean for Washington.

I actually think the change could be profound. I actually think that this is a unique moment in time — a confluence of events that are coming together. I have been talking about it in the context of government 2.0 — and, it will come as no shock to regular readers, I think that is a part of it. And I think there are unique opportunities ahead. That is in part because of the need — and belief — that there needs to be change. That is in part because there is a changing demographic of the government workforce — and, if Obama can tap even a portion of the enthusiasm of his campaign, he might actually succeed at making government work “cool again.” There may just be a flood of the so-called “millennials” — those that are “born digital” who may decide that public service is cool again. And then there are these tools — these easy to use tools that allow people to collaborate and come together.

Just the latest case in point — tonight, just before he gave his acceptance speech, Obama sent out the following e-mail to his supporters, which, I might note, includes my mother:

I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it’s time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing…

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,


My mother’s comment: “This is even better than the fireside chats of FDR.”

Get ready for change. (Now we have to figure out what exactly that means.)

Written by cdorobek

November 5, 2008 at 12:55 AM

Google’s Schmidt as the Obama administration’s CTO?

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Let the CTO speculation begin.

I told you earlier this week that BusinessWeek mentioned some names for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s proposed CTO post.

And then came this announcement today:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt Backs Obama; Will Hit Campaign Trail [, registration required; see also CNet’s story]

Mountain View, Calif. — Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, has announced that he will back Sen. Barack Obama in the race for president, planning to join him on the campaign trail starting with an event in Florida on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported. “I’m doing this personally,” Schmidt told The Journal, adding that “Google is officially neutral” in the campaign. To this point, Schmidt has not donated money to either campaign, although Google staffers have contributed $487, 355 to Obama and $20,600 to Sen. John McCain. Schmidt has been unofficially advising the Obama campaign on technology and energy issues. The Journal cited “some tech and media executives” who speculate that Schmidt may be interested in a role in a potential Obama administration, such as the chief technology officer post that Obama has considered creating.

That spurred Wired Epicenter blog to speculate that Schmidt might be up for the CTO slot. And they also requested some other ideas.

Schmidt may be a good fit, especially in light of Google’s interests in Washington, but this is not a Googlopoly. We’re taking nominations (after the jump). Who do you think should be Obama’s CTO?

Among Wired readers ideas — serious and non-serious:

* Star Trek TNG’s Gordi LaForge
* Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies
* Ed Lazowski from the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation

Other ideas?

Written by cdorobek

October 21, 2008 at 9:24 PM

Posted in CIOs, Executive, OMB, Policy

Tagged with , , Does the government need a CTO?

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One of the big debates ongoing in the government IT community surrounds the proposal from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to create a federal chief technology officer. (You can read Obama’s technology plan here.)

On Federal News Radio’s mid-day show, InDepth with Francis Rose, on Friday, they had two former CIOs — Roger Baker, the former Commerce Department CIO and Ed Meagher, the former Interior deputy CIO, now with SRA — on the show to debate the issue. (Hear the full interview here. .mp3) Baker gives the idea a thumbs up — he believes the position would give the government a more strategic view of technology — while Meagher gave it a maybe and said there needs to be more details.

There was a fascinating piece in the most recent issue of Technology Review, published by MIT, that featured a interview with Mitch Kapor, who headed Lotus Development, which created the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. The story has a simple headline: Does the U.S. Need a CTO?: Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of personal computing, says the position is vital given the growing importance of technology. The interview makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately Kapor still didn’t offer any more details.

Mitch Kapor likes beginnings. In 1982, he founded Lotus Development, which made the popular spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3. In 1990, he cofounded the ­Electronic Frontier Foundation, a political­-­advocacy and legal organization that champions free speech and privacy. And in 2003, he became the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation, which is responsible for the open-source Web browser Firefox. Today, Kapor sits on the boards of such companies as ­Linden Research, and he heads his eponymous foundation, which provides grants to San Francisco Bay Area organizations working with low-income communities on educational and environmental issues.

Last fall, Kapor was called upon to help Senator Barack Obama define his technology positions. Kapor suggested that Obama, if elected president, should install a federal chief tech­nology officer. Conservatives grumbled at the idea of another layer of bureaucracy, but Kapor and others in Silicon Valley say the government needs cohesive technology practices and policies.

It is easy to get wrapped around the sympatic question of whether this CTO would just be a glorified federal CIO, or whether it would decrease the impact of government CIOs, which I think would be disappointing.

Both the Federal News Radio and the interview are interesting — and the subject deserves more attention.

Written by cdorobek

September 21, 2008 at 9:04 PM