Buzz of the Week

What is Iowa telling us?

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. Jan. 14, 2008. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

Many of us remember the 1976 movie, “Network,” which introduced the catch phrase, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” In the long run-up to the 2008 elections, there’s been an almost palpable feeling that people are mad. Some might argue that anger has been seeping out in various ways for years — in impeachment proceedings during the Clinton administration, in the hardening of partisan feelings on Capitol Hill — and the list goes on.

That anger is reflected in public opinion polls. Even before the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found a prolonged period of public dissatisfaction.

Certainly, those feelings were at work, at least in part, in Iowa. New Hampshire lies ahead this week.

Yet Iowa and New Hampshire — and this general sense of public unease — do have an effect on government and government information technology. Most government IT, management and procurement issues fly below the radar of the political firestorms, yet in recent years, many of them are acquiring an increasingly caustic tone. Government workers — federal, state and local — have been caught in partisan fights between lawmakers on Capitol Hill and officials in the White House and between political appointees and career government workers.

Iowa voters seemed to paint a different picture, moving beyond the anger to a new path — perhaps.

Pundits noted that voters embraced two candidates — Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Republican former Arkansas Gov.

Mike Huckabee — who came from nowhere, faced seemingly insurmountable odds, and yet won.

“You know, they said this day would never come,” Obama said in a victory speech in Iowa on Thursday. “They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.”

Iowa is only the first step in the 11-month marathon to November’s elections. It is unclear what this first step may say about how government workers do their jobs, and it remains unclear what this idiosyncratic Midwestern state may say about the rest of the country, but it is an interesting first step.

Editor’s Note: FCW will publish its next issue Jan. 21. Get regular news updates on

The Buzz Contenders

#2: New Calif. CIO
Teri Takai has started a new job as California’s chief information officer, a tough assignment but one that her fans say she can handle. Takai, who was Michigan’s CIO for four years, knows how to manage change, said Thom Rubel, practice director of government programs at market research firm Government Insights.

“Teri’s an incredibly competent CIO, so I’m not surprised that California probably sought her pretty hard.”

#3: FOIA refresh
On New Year’s Eve, President Bush signed the first revision in a decade to the Freedom of Information Act.

Advocates of open government scored some wins with this new law. Agencies cannot charge search fees or recover document duplication fees if they fail to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner, for example. And every agency must establish a FOIA tracking system that assigns a number to each request no later than 10 days after receiving the request. Agencies must also set up a telephone or Web-based service that requesters can use to get information about t he status of their FOIA requests. It’s about time to shine some light into the black hole that FOIA has become.

#4: Census alert
Mitre has warned Census Bureau officials that the agency’s plan t o us e handheld data collection devices for the 2010 census is in such serious trouble that the agency should immediately develop contingency plans for conducting a paper-based field census, as reported.

According to Mitre, the project lacks a leader with the experience, stature and passion to make electronic data collection a success. Ouch.

#5: Pitiful progress?
The Office of Management and Budget reported last week that less than 1 percent of more than 4.3 million federal employees — and less than 1 percent of 1 million contractors — have been issued secure identity verification cards. The deadline for issuing uniform computer-readable ID cards, which are mandatory under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, is Oct. 27. Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology, isn’t panicking yet but maybe she should be.

#6: Davis departure index
Will he stay or will he go? Here’s where to look for the latest reading on whether Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will seek re-election. Today’s reading points toward Go.

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