Yesterday I was interviewed about the impact of the Obama administration on the IT industry after his first full year in office.This made me think about my first post during his administration, which welcomed his executive order on open government and was at the basis of the Open Government Directive issued on 8 December 2009.
I would argue that the story of the Open Government Directive symbolizes what is good and what needs improvement in how this administration deals with IT.
Obama and his IT staff have been great in establishing a compelling vision and in setting change in motion.
The very principles of Open Government have been around for quite some time, but Obama’s executive order was the first time a country leader would state it as an objective so clearly and loudly. Also, appointing young, tech-savvy executives with no prior federal experience to lead IT and IT-intensive change initiatives has been a bold move.
Moving fast, creating disruption to traditional approaches, engaging people more directly, dealing with vendors in less neutral way, and running initiatives in a sort of “perpetual beta” mode have been distinctive elements of this administration. Data.gov, Apps.gov, Recovery.gov, Federal IT Dashboard: these are tangible accomplishment of this first year.
However, the problem this administration is already facing is the ability to execute on such an aggressive change agenda.
Here is where it is worth reminding that the Open Government Directive was issued almost 11 months after Obama’s executive order, nine months after the appointment of the federal CIO, eight months after the appointment of the federal CTO, six months after the end of the open process to gather ideas from the public about the directive itself.
As people say, devil is in the details, and Obama’s IT staff did not have too much time to sort out details. As a consequence, there are ambiguities in the Open Government Directive, apps.gov does not provide yet any infrastructure-as-a-service service almost five months after issuing the Request For Information for the second time, Data.gov still has many fewer data sets than its UK counterpart which was launched yesterday, Recovery.gov is not yet up to expectations, and so forth.
The good thing is that these are bright people and they have the capabilities to pull it out. They just need to recognize that there are limits to the amount and speed of change that an organization as complex and regulated as the US federal government can absorb.
Their effort needs to shift from the high-level boundary-pushing vision statements, toward fighting the countless turf battles they need to fight to win the wholehearted support of agency heads and CIOs. To do so they must strike a delicate balance between diplomacy, moral suasion, budgetary and regulatory power.