White House is IT backwater

The blogging, Facebooking new media Obama team runs head-on into the 1970s reality that is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

So this is where the new media rubber meets the old IT road. You know all that stuff I wrote about how technology would transform the presidency under Obama? That was so naive. The Washington Post reports that the White House is a technological backwater, a pathetic case of IT neglect. Bringing the White House into the 20th century will be a gargantuan task, as if things weren't tough enough. Here's a quick tour of the gallery of IT horrors that is the nation's homestead.

  • Inability to update whitehouse.gov:
    By late evening, the vaunted new White House Web site did not offer any updated posts about President Obama's busy first day on the job, which included an inaugural prayer service, an open house with the public, and meetings with his economic and national security teams. Nor did the site reflect the transparency Obama promised to deliver. ... No one could quite explain the problem -- but they swore it would be fixed.
  • Lack of protocols:
    One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes.
  • Outdated operating systems and hardware: Computers were running six-year-old versions of Windows. Laptops are scarce.
  • Just plain unreadiness:
    One White House official, who arrived breathless yesterday after being held up at the exterior gate, found he had no computer or telephone number. Recently called back from overseas duty, he ended up using his foreign cellphone.

    Another White House official whose transition cellphone was disconnected left a message temporarily referring callers to his wife's phone.

  • Restrictive regulations:
    Senior advisers chafed at the new arrangements, which severely limit mobility -- partly by tradition but also for security reasons and to ensure that all official work is preserved under the Presidential Records Act. "It is what it is," said a White House staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Nobody is being a blockade right now. It's just the system we need to go through."

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