Election preview: The Oval Office and the tech agenda

How much will the winner of the next election change the government's technology direction?

Working in government during an election year is a challenge. You never know who is going to end up in powerful congressional seats or, every four years, in the Oval Office. Funding priorities become uncertain so you can't easily undertake long-term initiatives. The emphasis on insourcing vs. outsourcing could shift, as could any number of other factors that influence decision-making.

It can be challenging for us at Federal Computer Week, too. Our primary mission is to provide information for CIOs, agency leaders and other executives regarding technologies, policies, management initiatives and procurement issues that could affect their work.

Elections are important events, and they affect our readers in various ways. But the topics we're interested in are usually not the ones candidates make speeches about. Indeed, President Barack Obama said nothing about cloud-first, mobile devices or IT management in his State of the Union address delivered Jan. 24.

Hopefuls vying for congressional seats or the White House, and incumbents as well, emphasize, quite rightly, how their preferred policies will affect the majority of Americans. The specific concerns of agency IT managers and policy-makers are not the stuff of stump speeches.

This year might be a little different in that the federal workforce is under a budget-cutting microscope, and some candidates will make reducing the size of government an issue. But that's just one broad topic of interest to our readers. It tells CIOs nothing about how a candidate's policies would affect their priorities and practices.

So how can we cover the election in a way that's meaningful for our readers? One approach is to look at what the candidates have done in their earlier leadership positions for a clue to their interests and possible priorities.

This year is more contentious than many. Barack Obama's re-election is far from a done deal, so 2013 could bring a new chief executive. If it does, much of what was important for agency CIOs and other leaders will shift, and the new priorities will take time to unspool. If Obama wins, the changing face of Congress, the drastically tighter budgets that 2011's maneuvering brought us and the continuing pressures on the workforce will bring some changes.

And Obama’s rivals? Start with the man who was among the front-runners from the start: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In 2006, Romney won applause from open-source advocates by appointing Louis Gutierrez as state CIO and using the occasion to emphasize his support for an ongoing project to implement OASIS' OpenDocument Format (ODF) in state government.

Writing at ConsortiumInfo.org back in 2006, editor and attorney Andy Updegrove noted that Romney's press release announcing the appointment put the spotlight on Gutierrez's history as CIO at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, where he spearheaded the creation of a Virtual Gateway that integrated the websites of 16 agencies.

“With the announcement of Gutierrez and the unambiguous manner in which it addresses Romney's commitment to unimpeded implementation of ODF, there can be no doubt that this presidential hopeful is placing a major political investment in ensuring that the OASIS OpenDocument Format will prevail in Massachusetts, all efforts by Microsoft and local politicos to the contrary,” Updegrove wrote.

The real wild card

Or consider Newt Gingrich, who seemed to be trailing Romney until an upset win in the South Carolina primary. He has a long-standing reputation as a technophile, a futurist and a proponent of innovation — so much so that he's been dubbed "Newt Skywalker" in some quarters.

As speaker of the House in the 1990s, as a December 2011 Politico article by Michelle Quinn reminds us, he "marshaled forces on issues such as data-scrambling technologies, freedom of speech on the Internet and securities litigation reform. He helped launch Thomas, the Library of Congress website that provides information about bills. He started the High Technology Working Group, now the Technology Working Group, composed of Republican leaders involved in a wide swath of tech issues.”

Whatever unfolds in the months ahead, it's probably a safe bet that cloud computing, mobility and other initiatives that Obama started or continued from his predecessor will remain priorities come Jan. 20, 2013, and other innovation and modernization initiatives are likely to emerge ... as long as the funding remains adequate.

And that funding, more than the name or party affiliation of the 2012 victor, is the real wild card.

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