Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages

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Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009; A01

If the Obama campaign represented a sleek, new iPhone kind of future,
the first day of the Obama administration looked more like the
rotary-dial past.

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential
campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints
of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of
disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security
regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate
with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging.
Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power
through, among other things, relentless online social networking.

"It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari," Obama spokesman
Bill Burton said of his new digs.

In many ways, the move into the White House resembled a first day at
school: Advisers wandered the halls, looking for their offices. Aides
spent hours in orientation, learning such things as government ethics
rules as well as how their paychecks will be delivered. And everyone
filled out a seemingly endless pile of paperwork.

There were plenty of first-day glitches, too, as calls to many lines
in the West Wing were met with a busy signal all morning and those to
the main White House switchboard were greeted by a recording,
redirecting callers to the presidential Web site. A number of
reporters were also shut out of the White House because of lost
security clearance lists.

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.
"The President has not yet issued any executive orders," it stated
hours after Obama issued executive orders to tighten ethics rules,
enhance Freedom of Information Act rules and freeze the salaries of
White House officials who earn more than $100,000.

The site was updated for the first time last night, when information
on the executive orders was added. But there were still no pool
reports or blog entries.

No one could quite explain the problem -- but they swore it would be fixed.

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. The team members,
accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with
six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce,
assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left
struggling to put closed captions on online videos.

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.


Re: Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages [Telecom]

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Welcome to the real world.  There is nothing wrong with 6-year old
Windows XP.  It can do everything the snazzy Mac can do and for a lot
less money.  And what's more, those computers can be fixed with off-
the-shelf parts, unlike Macs.

***** Moderator's Note *****

Cnet is apparently assuming that its readers can't subtract:
"six-year-old versions of Microsoft software" means MS Office 2003,
the defacto standard for business use.

However, it doesn't matter if the new kids on the block at 1600
Pennsylvania Ave. use Linapple or Wintel machines: what matters is that
they realize that _getting_ someone elected is different than
_governing_, and that they buckle down to producing more substance and
less style.

Bill Horne
Temporary Moderator

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Re: Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages [Telecom]
Monty Solomon wrote:
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 ... and waste copious amounts of time sifting through trivial crud.  Does
President Obama or his staff really need to know that "Janet Smith is going
to work now" and "Joe Green is glad to be back home at last"?

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I certainly hope Mr. Burton is more in touch with productivity than that
quote suggests.

Geoffrey Welsh <Geoffrey [dot] Welsh [at] bigfoot [dot] com>


Re: Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages [Telecom]
reply@newsgroup.please says...
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would make it Windows XP and Office 2003. Still functional, I use
Windows XP Pro and Office 2000 though I'm gradually starting to use
OpenOffice more.

Re: Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages [Telecom]
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The "early people" knew very well that they had completely ignored
security: they did so intentionally, knowing that the network would
only ever be accessible to a few thousand DoD-approved contractors and
grantees.  (Many of the "early people" had spent their prior careers
working on operating systems with significant security design
requirements, like Multics.)  There was a fundamental principle that
hosts were responsible for their own security, which made[1] a great
deal of sense in a world where computers required large rooms and
skilled full-time staff to maintain (as opposed to today, where a
resource inversion has given the "bad guys" access to vastly more
computational power and network resources than the "good guys").
Nobody expected that their "walled garden" would be turned inside out.


[1] Actually, it still makes a great deal of sense, and it's how I run
my network; what's changed is that it can no longer be the sole means
of defense.

Garrett A. Wollman   | The real tragedy of human existence is not that we are| nasty by nature, but that a cruel structural asymmetry
Opinions not those   | grants to rare events of meanness such power to shape
of MIT or CSAIL.     | our history. - S.J. Gould, Ten Thousand Acts of Kindness

Re: Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages [Telecom]
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I think that's a bit of an exaggeration.

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Another poster correctly described this as the difference between
getting elected and governing.  So true.   A campaign does not have to
answer to anyone.  A president is subject to many laws and procedures
to (1) protect his personal security, (2) protect national security,
and (3) keep an eye on him (some of this dates back to Watergate).
IMHO, the 'oversight' (the "Records Act") goes overboard and creates
unnecessary problems and hinderances.

Quoted text here. Click to load it

If memory serves, an article such as this appears every time a new
Administration takes office going back into history.  FDR's
administration was a big shake up over Hoover's, Truman shook up FDR,
and so on.

One thing that HAS changed is that the White House "staff" has
exploded in size over the years.  Hoover and his predecessors were
relatively small.  FDR, with his new activist government, added staff,
and subsequent presidents kept adding more and more.  Nixon's staff,
for all his and Haldeman's efforts at strict control, discipline, and
organization, was actually out of control and that led to Watergate.

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