Friday, January 23, 2009

technology transition at the white house

There was a great Washington Post article yesterday about how White House technology is "in the Dark Ages." I laughed bemusedly over my toast and read the article aloud at the breakfast table.

The White House is not being singled out. I work for a Federal Agency. I know folks who work at numerous other Federal Agencies, some of whom have worked at said agencies for decades. Federal agencies have many, many rules about hardware and software security, and every agency has to interpret and enforce those rules themselves. Security levels of content muddy the waters. This can cause a certain amount of confusion as to what is and isn't allowed. Someone told me that their agency (not the White House) hasn't yet approved Firefox. News that the White House counsel's office approved use of Gmail accounts for some press office activities has been forwarded to many Federal IT units, I'm sure.

Edit, 25 January: Wired has posted a Wired/Tired overview of White House tech, and a list of recent technology projects from various agencies. Nice to see the shout out for the LoC Flickr project.

1 comment:

adb said...

In my own experience with federal IT, it seemed like the root of many problems was the pervasive requirement for security theater that infected so much of the public sector post-9/11. Every IT decision was driven by how much it gave the appearance of addressing security (relevant and irrelevant), rather than how much it met requirements or even how it actually addressed the real security needs related to the decision. In that sort of culture, given how complicated real computer security actually is, becomes all too easy for vendors and others to take advantage of a lack of technical understanding on the part of the decision-makers; unsurprisingly, the result is a chaos of nonsensical rules, budget constraints, tied hands, and technical atrophy.

I don't think it's fair to describe the current state of public IT as having been ever thus – it was a sort of perfect storm of political and technological change during the last several years. In a different climate in which security theater had not been elevated to the center stage, things might have ended up differently.

The contrast between the sort of theater I saw in federal IT, and the actual security measures taken where I am now (one of the most famously secretive and security-conscious technology companies), are frequently astounding, both what is prohibited and what is not.