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FCW Insider: Five (plus one) readings worth your time


I was in New York this past weekend, so I got more time then I usually do to read. Some interesting reading that is worth some time:

* Tech and leadership… I have been fascinated by the link between leadership and tech savvyness -- or the lack of a connection. FCW did an editorial on the subject, and I have blogged about it. In the Sunday NYT, Mark Leibovich has a column on the subject which had the online headline Hail to the Twitterer… in print it was McCain, the Analog Candidate. I prefer the former, but… the piece was fascinating.


We joke, but the serious question — and one that has occupied many of the blogs and discussion groups that Mr. McCain does not partake of — is whether the computing habits of the presumptive Republican nominee should have any bearing at all on his fitness to be commander in chief.

While 73 percent of American adults use the Internet (only 35 percent 65 or older), according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, it’s likely that many of them would rather have a president who can get Osama bin Laden than get online. And there is a common belief that says being president should be more a “vision” job than a “management” job, and that the clutter of a digital life can only distract from the Big Picture and Deep Thoughts a leader should be concerned with. In other words, would we really want a president “friending” from the Oval Office, scouring Wikipedia for information on Iran’s nuclear program or fielding e-mail from someone claiming to be “Nigerian general” seeking an American bank account for embezzled millions?

As a practical matter, probably not. Presidents can avoid using computers if they want to. That’s one of the privileges of the office. They are surrounded by a staff entrusted with keeping them plugged in, day and night.

So why have Mr. McCain’s admissions of digital illiteracy sparked such ridicule in wiseguy circles?


Leibovich did, however, talk to Tom Wheeler, a telecommunications entrepreneur and investor who wrote the recent book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of how Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War,” which I may add to the list of books for the FCW Book Club.


“I don’t think it’s so much a question of what a president is doing today,” Mr. Wheeler said. “It’s a question of how responsive are you to the fact that there will be continuing technological change during your term.”

Mr. Wheeler, a supporter and fundraiser for Mr. McCain’s Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, said that Lincoln was the model of a president who embraced technology. Lincoln’s mastery of the telegraph machine not only put him well ahead of most of his constituents on the technology curve but also allowed him to speak directly to his generals and track their actions.

Lincoln gave a speech in 1860 that said the United States’ responsiveness to new technology was the chief virtue separating it from Europe. The speech begins, “All creation is a mine, and every man a miner.”


I'm clipping too much. It's an interesting read.

* Speaking of Lincoln... the other really good piece in the NYT -- unrelated to technology but instead on the subject of leadership -- is an op-ed piece by historian Dorris Kearns Goodwin headlined, Defeat Your Opponents. Then Hire Them. Goodwin most recently wrote a book about Lincoln called Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in which she wrote about Lincoln's ability to tap into his rivals to build a stronger union. Both the NYT article and the book are worth reading -- particularly now.

* Editor's pick from this week's issue of Federal Computer Week... I would also recommend FCW's own op-ed piece by Scott Burns of GovDelivery, who writes a piece we headlined, The not so invisible hand. Burns talks about the challenges facing the people formerly known as "Web masters." (Remember that term?) He references a Princeton University paper Government Data and the Invisible Hand.


If the next Presidential administration really wants to embrace the potential of Internet-enabled government transparency, it should follow a counter-intuitive but ultimately compelling strategy: reduce the federal role in presenting important government information to citizens. Today, government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use. We argue that this understanding is a mistake. It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility.

Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.


* Steve Kelman's blog... Kelman's blog is always worth reading, but... he recently did a column that we headlined Knowledge management 2.0. It is about a system in the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection that is using social networking to connect people, andKelman, an excellent Facebook friend, suggested CBP could tap into the lessons of Facebook. And he now has a follow-up post on the subject, Collaboration success -- the Facebook model redux.

* Finally... Neil Pierce on Government 2.0... I never saw this article in the WP -- I may have missed it -- but WP columnist Neil Pierce gives some kudos to the Web 2.0 work that government is doing.

Time to Set Our Data Free: Web - Now Government - 2.0?


There’s a fascinating twist to the Web 2.0 story — Its lead city is America’s often-maligned national capital. 2.0 expert Stephenson argues convincingly that “Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, and his Chief Technology Officer, Vivek Kundra , are this country’s hands-down leaders on use of data feeds and data visualization.” The District of Columbia is providing, in fact, 215 real-time data feeds on every area from zoning permits to health care to potholes, available to government workers, indeed any web user through its Citywide Data Warehouse


It is going to be very interesting to see how people deal with transparency. Elsewhere in the NYT, there is a story about a new Web site that pulls together arrest data from around the country -- and it is freaking people out. The story, headlined If You Run a Red Light, Will Everyone Know?, poses precisely that question. I can only hope that we will focus on results and the work people do. I hope that we will all realize that none of us are perfect and we can therefore move beyond the sniping and suspiciousness and that we will, in fact, learn to be more constructive.

* Off-topic... Read about Karen Evans' father -- The Journal in Martinsburg, WV is running a series called Unsung Heroes, which profiles U.S. veterans who served in wars and conflicts from World War II to the present. Last week, the Journal featured Capt. Hugh Strehle, who served in the Army and the Navy before retiring in 1992. He is coincidentally the father of OMB's Karen Evans. Definitely worth reading.

Is that enough to keep you busy for the week?

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Aug 04, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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