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Obama’s State of the Union Sets the Bar Higher for Information Technology

By Andrea Di Maio | January 27, 2011 | 0 Comments

web 2.0 in governmentcloud

The US President made his second State of the Union address on January 25th (see full transcript from New York Times), touching both on what his administration has accomplished and, more importantly, on the challenges ahead and how they require bi-partisan approaches to be solved.

Certainly an inspired and inspirational speech for an overseas observer like myself, witnessing much lower level and somewhat shameful debates in his own country.

Not surprisingly, Obama put technology, including information technology, at the very center of his speech.

Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people

IT will be pervasive to what Obama wants to accomplish, be it high-speed trains, renewable energy, electric cars, building new road infrastructure, as well as

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.

An important part of Obama’s commitment is about transforming government and the way it operates.

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. […] In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.

And – of course – the President could not avoid mentioning openness and transparency, which have been among his administration’s top priorities in the last two years:

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.

All this will come at a considerable cost, though, as the objective of reducing the deficit will lead to significant cuts

Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.  So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.

In summary Obama’s vision is that of a

21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

So, what does this mean for IT professionals in government and in the vendor community?

In spite of the spending freeze, I doubt federal IT spending overall will decline, as technology is clearly pivotal to many of the objectives. On the other hand, there will be much tougher calls on showing the value of IT in terms of how it measurably contributes to efficiency and growth objectives set by the administration.

The 25 point plan published last month by the Office of Management and Budget sets the ground for federal agencies to become more effective at managing programs and smarter at buying services from IT vendors, and creates a climate of both scrutiny and transparency in how IT money is being spent.

Interestingly enough, the spending freeze could create great opportunities to finally move open government to the next level, where it is not only a tool to improve transparency but becomes an essential component to make government “live within its means”. Also the use of alternative delivery models, such as cloud computing, could finally take off, as agencies look for new ways to balance cost containment and innovation.

While challenges remain as government organizations don’t take transformation from their legacy processes and habits any lightly, the combination of a clear vision as expressed in Obama’s words, and a relentless focus on helping with implementation, through the work that agencies like OMB, GSA, NIST and others are doing, may really put IT at the center of an epochal change in the way of governing.

I wish Obama and his colleagues all the best, because they are clearly setting the bar for other administrations around the world, irrespective of location and political orientation, and because there is no other industry which is so overwhelmingly complex and where IT can do so much.

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