The dawn of the 2.0 presidency

No one should be surprised that President Barack Obama has had such a dramatic impact on the federal information technology community.

Even before he was elected, he set up an online forum to seek public input on how to improve government operations. And whereas his predecessor took a dim view of e-mail, Obama was a self-professed BlackBerry addict and even enlisted the National Security Agency in bulletproofing his device against evildoers looking for the hack of a lifetime.

Obama also brought WhiteHouse.gov into the Web 2.0 era by introducing a blog, promising the public an opportunity to participate in online discussions, and posting executive orders and other documents. And that was just the first few weeks of his presidency.

Of course, not all the news in 2009 was of Obama’s making — or choosing. The passage of the massive stimulus bill came with a whole new set of challenges, especially for an administration pledged to transparency.

Here is a review of the year’s news — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Obama’s YouTube kerfuffle
IT vendors stand by, shovels in hand
Government procurement’s new world order
Kundra takes the spotlight
Alliant: Everybody is a winner
Facebook: The writing is on the wall
Obama [hearts] cloud computing
The new cybersecurity coordinator: Godot
Transparency takes an ugly turn
Another cybersecurity wake-up call
A world without Word?
DOD plays coy with social media
Apps.gov makes surprising debut
NSPS: The end is in sight

Click "next" to read our picks for the year's top news.

Obama’s YouTube kerfuffle

The 2.0 presidency hit its first minefield when President Barack Obama took his weekly addresses to YouTube, with a YouTube feed embedded at WhiteHouse.gov. YouTube uses small data files known as persistent cookies to track users — a no-no for federal agencies. The White House counsel issued a waiver to keep the videos online.

Also in January:

Jan. 14: Rep. Edolphus Towns takes the helm of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Jan. 16: The General Services Administration awards 72 contracts under the Alliant Small Business program.

Jan. 26: Obama is outfitted with a maximum-security smart phone.

Jan. 26: Obama announces the creation of Recovery.gov to track economic stimulus funds.

Jan. 30: DOD launches Forge.mil site to develop open-source software.

IT vendors stand by, shovels in hand

There’s nothing like a $787 billion bankroll to stimulate the technology industry’s imagination.

Of course, most of the money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was destined for transportation, construction, education and other sectors that have a conspicuous presence in numerous congressional districts. But even a fraction of that funding would mean a big boost to a moribund industry.

One of the big winners was health information technology, with close to $20 billion allocated to promoting the adoption of electronic health records and building a national health information network. Another sweet spot was green technology, with untold billions going toward developing smart electrical grids, buying hybrid cars and installing technology to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.

Also in February:

Feb. 10: FAA reports that the personal info on more than 45,000 employees and retirees had been hacked.

Feb. 10: Obama orders an immediate review of the government's cybersecurity strategy.

Feb. 17: The new stimulus law includes a provision favoring the use of fixed-price contracts.

Feb. 25: NIST assembles a team to identify and address risks associated with cloud computing.

Feb. 26: Obama’s 2010 budget request includes more money for cybersecurity.

Government procurement’s new world order

Out: Outsourcing and cost-plus and no-bid contracts.

In: Insourcing, fixed-price contracts and acquisition training.

Six weeks after taking office, Obama held a news conference to outline his agenda for stamping out wasteful and abusive procurement practices, which sent many federal contractors into shock and left some acquisition experts speechless.

Initially, the campaign against no-bid and fixed-price contracts garnered the most attention. But as the year went on, people began to realize that the real news in contracting was that there might be less of it. Agencies were under pressure to bring work back into government and cut many of their contractors loose.

The same might not necessarily be true of the contractors’ employees. Industry executives soon began to notice that their government customers were luring away some members of their staffs.

Click "next" to continue or click here for the year's top news.

Kundra takes the spotlight

Vivek Kundra’s title is federal chief information officer and administrator for e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, but his aura is all rock star.

Kundra’s appointment in March ended months of speculation about who would become the first governmentwide CIO. Several people had held essentially the same position in the Bush administration, minus the CIO title, but Obama clearly wanted a CIO who would be a visionary and not just an OMB bureaucrat.

Kundra, who earned a reputation as an innovator during his tenure as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia, fit the bill. His arrival dispelled a lot of interest in who would be named the federal government’s CTO — a position eventually filled by Aneesh Chopra.

Also in March:

March 6: The House Armed Services Committee establishes an acquisition panel to guide reform efforts.

March 18: OPM authorizes agencies to hire temporary employees to help with stimulus-related work.

March 31: Acquisition officials propose new rules for reporting stimulus spending.

Alliant: Everybody is a winner

The General Services Administration came up with a surefire way to avoid protests against the Alliant program: Give everybody a contract. In 2007, GSA had awarded contracts to 29 companies but had to start over after some losing bidders won a protest. This time around, GSA doubled the pool to 59 firms so all parties concerned could get on with their lives.

Facebook: The writing is on the wall

When the General Services Administration successfully negotiated a terms-of-service agreement with Facebook in April, it cleared the way for federal agencies to begin using the popular social-networking site. It also prompted two questions: Why would an agency want to be on Facebook, and why does it matter given that many agencies block employee access to the site?

Indeed, the primary interest was among public affairs officials, who recognized an opportunity to give their agencies a higher profile. Later in the year, Facebook launched a government page to share best practices and resources with agencies that are new to social media.

However, NASA officials were convinced that social networking was also a productivity tool, so they developed Spacebook, a homegrown social-networking site that resides behind the agency’s firewall.

Also in April:

April 2: TSA's Secure Flight prescreening system for airline passengers goes live.

April 9: VA, DOD discuss plans to create a lifetime electronic health record for service members, veterans.

April 29: The Obama administration outlines a plan to increase teleworking at agencies.

Click "next" to continue or click here for the year's top news.

Obama [hearts] cloud computing

The cloud computing industry, an emerging technology for hosting applications and data online, received a love letter from the Obama administration. As part of the fiscal 2010 budget request, the administration touted the benefits of the emerging technology and directed agencies to launch pilot projects to test it.

The new cybersecurity coordinator: Godot

In late May, Obama announced plans to appoint a senior-level official at the White House to coordinate the administration’s cybersecurity policy, but no name was forthcoming then or in the weeks and months that followed.

Many observers had expected Obama to choose Melissa Hathaway, who had overseen a 60-day review of the nation’s cybersecurity policy. But Hathaway withdrew her name from consideration in August as the search dragged on.

On Oct. 30, Phil Bond, president of the industry trade association TechAmerica, sent a letter to Obama urging him to make his pick. Coincidentally, a week later, “On the Fastrack,” a daily comic strip drawn by Bill Holbrook, featured a series in which one of its characters, Ada Counter, was appointed to the position.

Also in May:

May 7: Obama announces a plan to reduce costs at DOD by trimming the defense contractor workforce.

May 11: A White House budget document endorses the use of cloud computing to modernize IT services.

May 21: Agencies rate low on telework and other family-friendly options, according to a survey of federal employees.

May 22: Aneesh Chopra is confirmed as federal chief technology officer.

May 29: DHS officials begin performing an extra review of all professional service contracts worth more than $1 million.

Transparency takes an ugly turn

Imagine that you’ve turned on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on public TV when suddenly you are watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” That was pretty much the case with the Open Government Dialogue, the Obama administration’s first big experiment in citizen engagement.

What started out as a wonk fest — an online forum focused on the issue of government transparency — turned into an ugly spectacle when a group of Obama opponents managed to commandeer the Web site temporarily in hopes of gaining media attention. The group, often referred to as the birthers, overwhelmed the site with comments demanding that the president prove he is an American-born citizen.

Site moderators eventually managed to restore order, and the initiative proceeded without further incident.

Also in June:

June 23: Sen. McCaskill calls for a hearing on the set-aside contracting program for Alaska Native Corporations.

June 24: It’s official: The Army cancels the Future Combat Systems program.

June 24: DOD creates a Cyber Command to oversee offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Click "next" to continue or click here for the year's top news.

Another cybersecurity wake-up call

The federal government was caught flatfooted by a massive denial-of-service attack that shut down numerous government and financial Web sites for several days in early July.

Unknown perpetrators harnessed tens of thousands of hijacked computers to overwhelm Internet servers with traffic. The good news is that this was not the cyber Pearl Harbor that haunts the dreams of government officials: The attack did not disrupt any critical services or penetrate any networks.

Still, security experts were scratching their heads over why agencies were unprepared to handle such an unsophisticated attack. Some agencies apparently did not even know how to contact their Internet service providers. The lack of preparation was especially alarming after similar high-profile incidents in recent years in the nations of Estonia and Georgia.

Also in July:

July 8: A number of federal Web sites fall victim to a denial-of-service attack of unknown origin.

July 17: Federal officials add mapping tools to Recovery.gov.

July 24: VA officials halt 45 IT projects with a budget of $200 million that are behind schedule or over budget.

July 29: Office of Management and Budget tells agencies to cut 7 percent of contract spending.

A world without Word?

A lot of federal information technology managers were not sure what to make of the news that a small Canadian company had won a patent case involving Microsoft Word. Most observers expected little disruption to current users, but a few reminded Word users that other options are available.

DOD plays coy with social media

Although many military officials clearly have no love for social media, they have apparently concluded that an abstinence-only approach is bound to fail. After an on-again, off-again relationship earlier in the year, Pentagon officials undertook an extensive review in hopes of coming up with a cohesive policy.

In May, Army officials had acknowledged that social media was an ineradicable part of the cultural milieu for many soldiers and lifted a ban on Web 2.0 tools, ordering Army bases in the United States to open access to five social-media sites. But two months later, Marine officials ordered their bases to block all such sites, citing familiar cybersecurity and national security concerns.

The Defense Department’s forthcoming policy is expected to strike a balance between the two approaches.

Also in August:

Aug. 3: White House cyber adviser Melissa Hathaway resigns, takes herself out of the running for the cybersecurity coordinator job.

Aug. 11: A plan to allow tracking technology on government Web sites draws both protests and support.

Aug. 20: VA’s inspector general finds abuse of authority and ethical breaches in the agency’s IT office.

Aug. 28: VA blames a computer coding error for wrongly informing 60-plus veterans that they have Lou Gehrig's disease.

Click "next" to continue or click here for the year's top news.

Apps.gov makes surprising debut

The Obama administration surprised a lot of people in September by unveiling Apps.gov, an online technology storefront that, in theory, represented the future of government procurement.

Apps.gov, which was clearly inspired by commercial sites such as Amazon.com and eBay, nevertheless caught many vendors off guard. They said they had no idea it was coming and did not know how to get involved. A few vendors, most notably Carahsoft, dominated the site, while most software giants were conspicuously absent.

Apps.gov also surprised many procurement experts. Despite the slick appearance, the Web site appeared to be little more than a new look for GSA Advantage, a decade-old online buying system. Who knew the future would seem so familiar?

Also in September:

Sept. 3: A survey finds that agencies will need 11,000 more IT workers in the next three years.

Sept. 16: Google announces a plan to offer secure cloud services to federal agencies through Apps.gov.

Sept. 21: Dell acquires systems integrator Perot Systems.

Sept. 22: Linda Cureton is named NASA’s CIO.

Sept. 29: National Archives project makes reams of Holocaust records available online.

NSPS: The end is in sight

On Oct. 28, nothing visibly changed for DOD employees working under the National Security Personnel System, the department’s fledgling effort to link pay to performance. All the problems with ineffective managers, poorly defined objectives and biased pay pools were still in place.

Yet everything had changed because on that date Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2010, in which Congress directed DOD officials to pull the plug on NSPS and devise a new pay system. Some people believe pay for performance is both feasible and desirable in government, but nearly everyone agreed that NSPS was a miserable failure.

No one knows where DOD will go from here, but at least NSPS haters, for the first time, can dare to hope that things will get better.

Also in October:

Oct. 6: The government breaks its small-business contracting goals for stimulus spending.

Oct. 6: The Army creates a new office for managing upgrades of battlefield systems.

Oct. 7: Obama orders agencies to make data centers more energy-efficient.

Oct. 19: NSA’s Keith Alexander is nominated to lead DOD’s Cyber Command.

Oct. 27: New DOD guidance puts open-source software on equal footing with proprietary offerings.

Oct. 29: CDC expands flu-tracking efforts in response to the H1N1 virus.

Small glitch, big ‘whoops’

Flights were delayed around the country for much of the day Nov. 18 while the Federal Aviation Administration hunted down and fixed a bug in the system airlines use to submit flight plans. For nearly four hours, FAA personnel had to enter information manually, leading to delays that stretched into the afternoon.

Also in November:

Nov. 4: Craigslist founder joins VA initiative to speed processing of disability claims.

Nov. 6: The military uses social media to share info on Fort Hood shootings.

Nov. 6: A study finds a rise in fixed-price contracting under the stimulus law.

Nov. 19: A new DOD rule requires some employees to check with ethics office before taking a job with a contractor.

Nov. 22: Daniel Gordon gets Senate panel's nod as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 15, 2009 Barry Virginia

With all the talk about open and "transparent" government, one might surmise that there is some new phenomenon affot that will make government and governing better. I find myself highly skeptical of the belief that a blizzard of instantaneous information flowing around the culture will make government... or government officials anything more than they would have been without it. If that were the case, then government would not have worked well if at all back when it took months to get information across the Atlantic and days or weeks from the northernmost colony to the southernmost. But it did, quite well, and produced a system that has no equal in history. An interesting, and I think related fact is that our founders, surely the best governing body we have known, were afraid of too much inclusivity, fearing that a crowd could easily become a mob in its appetites and actions. In today's 2.0 government narrative, we seem to have forgotten that caution as we flirt with giving everyone a chance to weigh in on every subject... and every decision. As for a '2.0 President", nothing much has changed. The ability of any president to base decision making on popular whim has existed as long as there have been polls and polling. Indeed, scientific polling probably gives a better picture of how the nation thinks than the unscientifc 'by definition' sample one gets from Face Book and Twitter. Good presidents will still be good and those found wanting in the past would likely do no better in a 2.0 world.

Tue, Dec 8, 2009 Edmond Hennessy United States

Your article points out the bent that our newly-elected, President has for technology and identifies relevant examples of use or key Initiatives. It is encouraging to see this and it holds great promise. Your question about Gov 2.0 a fad? Well, let's end that by saying the "Past doesn't necessarily equal the future." If this goes like many, other highly-visible, Initiatives spawned in Gov and flops - this President will not be able to rationalize it away. The American people are not only looking to Mr. Obama for strong leadership, they are also holding him more accountable than any other previous Leader - possibly, with the exception of George Washington, who stepped into a formulative role.

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