Editorial: New IT plans needed

Now is not the time to raise our hopes, or to raise doubts, about the information technology visions of the presidential candidates, whatever they might say on the matter.

Republican Sen. John McCain recently released his technology plan, highlighting a “broad and cohesive vision for the future of American innovation,” according to the campaign’s Web site.

His plan — which calls for encouraging investment in innovation, developing a skilled workforce, ensuring a fully connected citizenry and keeping the Internet free of unnecessary regulations — has received mixed reviews. So has Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s, which was published in November 2007.
Observers say both candidates have played it safe, appealing to the proper constituencies with talk of innovation and workforce development, with little thought given to post-
election practicalities.

That’s fair enough: Information technology is hardly the most pressing issue in this election.
We hope that mind-set changes come January. Each candidate has proposed good ideas that should be taken up by Congress. But that is not enough. What is needed in 2009 is a detailed technology plan for innovation in government.

Obama touches on it by saying he would create the post of government chief technology officer, who would take the lead on information security initiatives and work with agency CTOs and chief information officers “to ensure they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.”

Likewise, McCain calls for an Office of Electronic Government, that would spearhead efforts to bring more government services online. He also proposes investing more money in public/private research to accelerate the development of key technologies.

Such proposals, though, need to be incorporated into a broader vision for — dare we say it? — reinventing government. The new administration’s agenda needs to be more than a laundry list of proposals. Instead, it needs to be a logical and progressive to-do list, with a detailed plan for execution.

The vision also must also be realistic. For example, Obama’s platform calls for government to use “blogs, wikis and social-networking tools to modernize internal, cross-agency and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making.”

What’s not to love about that? But federal agencies have just begun to dabble in social networking and have not yet tackled some practical questions: How secure are these tools? Do social-networking transactions qualify as public records? What are the rules of engagement when interacting with the public through these media? 

We can’t expect the candidates to get into such nitty-gritty details now. But in 2009, one of them will have to create a logical plan for putting popular, workable ideas into action.

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