Suggestions for the Obama Administration's Digital Policy
The new Administration is ready to take office, and one of it’s stated objectives is “reshaping our economy to compete in the digital age.” I applaud the new Administration’s recognition of the fact that we must push to advance our position in the digital frontier to maintain stability, security, and safety. I have a couple of suggestions for their direction, but first I have to put this in scale.The Federal Government’s information architecture is an immense system, so large as to be beyond comprehension at many levels. Even a small change is a major project at this scale. It would be unreasonable to expect any major changes to this system to happen overnight, or even over a single four year term.
One of the most obvious considerations for the new administration is broadband access and the digital backbone. Why is broadband so important? As FCC chairman Kevin Martin states in “Engine of Productivity and Innovation” (Korea Times – 6/17/2008), “The ability to share increasing amounts of information, at greater and greater speeds, increases productivity, facilitates commerce and helps drive innovation.” Information technology science has advanced at an astounding pace since the construction of Eniac in 1946. Technology is now an integral part of finance and commerce, education and employment, healthcare, and almost every other facet of our lives. It is very important that the backbone of the internet keeps pace with any digital development.
Just as obvious to experts, but less so to the general public, is information security. The attacks on September 11, 2001 had a devastating impact on the economy. An attack on our digital infrastructure, however, could have an even larger impact, as described in TechNewsWorld.com’s “CyberWarfare”. Some progress has been made toward adapting new policies and methods to counter a cyber-offensive through the Department of Homeland Security\’s “Cyber Storm Project”, but a lot of work still needs to be done. Security in the digital world is a moving target, and requires continual effort. This will be a critical component of any future digital infrastructure policy.
An area which requires significant attention is the availability and format of the Federal Government’s information architecture. We have made significant progress over the last few years toward digitizing the Governments’ public access through the Federal Information Portal, usa.gov. A tremendous amount of forms and data are available to the public through this medium. Many of the publics’ needs can be met at this portal to some degree, but a lot of work is still ahead. One impressive, but underdeveloped, section of usa.gov is the RSS feed page. This section of the portal could be immensely beneficial to the people. For example, it could let you subscribe to the feed for your districts’ representatives to keep track of their actions, or watch the feed for a particular issue which affects and/or interests you. We would also benefit from integration of some of the other newer technologies used on the internet today, for example the ability to send requests by topic or by task to multiple sources and receive a single response with the information we need (online information requests save Tampa, FL a fortune)or to customize the portal to our needs similar to iGoogle.
These same wonderful technologies could go a long way in developing transparency in government, but would require standardization of the data formats used by our government. This is what I would consider the most important issue with regard to federal information management. Using a standard, and open, semantic data management system would help to solve multiple issues facing our next administration. The ability to tag data by subject would aid the government (and it’s people) in communicating more efficiently. Anyone able to search available material by subject could easily aggregate the data into a single source (possibly an RSS feed) and review all actions on a given topic.
The last area I would add to the new Administration’s list is Total Cost of Operations. Our Federal Government is a very large institution, consisting of tens of thousands of systems. Licensing and implementation costs are staggering at this scale. The new Administration should not discredit any ideas for new development. One of considerable interest to me would be the implementation of more open-source projects and solutions. This could save billions in licensing costs, and give the Federal government the ability to tailor its’ solution to it’s needs
This is by no means a complete list of goals for the administrations new CTO, but is a good start toward their stated goal. Hopefully, we will see some of them start to develop.