Posted by James Kobielus on November 7, 2008
Wow....what a historic week this has been for the United States and the world.
When President Obama and Vice President Biden take office in January, they will have a very full agenda, a rat’s nest of nasty problems to address right off the bat, and a minefield of absurdly high expectations to navigate.
Being an IT industry analyst, I can’t help but wonder where IT fits into the incoming administration’s list of priorities. Indeed, during the campaign, I wasn’t at all sure that any of the candidates had any coherent positions regarding U.S. IT infrastructure, its role in sustaining American competitiveness, or its ability to help the federal government run more efficiently or connect with the constituents. Clearly, the Internet is a bit more stable right now than the financial services sector, so the candidates knew their priorities.
Nevertheless, IT is key to “change we can believe in,” and was instrumental to Obama’s successful campaign. This raises the issue: Does the incoming administration have an Information Agenda, or an IT agenda, and, if so, what might it be? Well, fortunately, a little bit of digging through the Obama campaign’s website has turned up a very thorough set of positions and promises on all things IT.
The most noteworthy promise reads as follows: “Obama will appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.” I’m not going to opine on whether it makes sense to have a national CTO, though, if Obama makes good on this promise, wouldn’t Al Gore make perfect sense in that role--assuming that a former VP wouldn’t see it as a step down in his political career.
But another Obama promise may prove even more important for the future of American political governance: “Open Up Government to its Citizens:.... An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to ...creat[e] a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens. “ On one level, this suggests an enduring role for BI and performance management technologies in the federal government’s outreach to citizens. What I’m thinking of is some sort of online, continuously refreshed scorecard, dashboard, or report that measures how well the government is serving its constitutents, as measured across many key performance indicators. Or, at the very least, such a scorecard might illustrate how well President Obama is living up to his campaign promises or stacking up against, say, the government’s performance under the outgoing President Bush.
Actually, I’m not entirely sure that an online presidential scorecard would be such a good idea. By its very nature, it would probably be a highly political, partisan, and disputed instrument from the get-go. Judging by the aggressive way in which Obama and the Democrats used the Internet in their campaign, an online presidential scorecard could either become an instrument of ongoing governance or degenerate into a vehicle of perpetual propaganda.
What do you think? Would the U.S. benefit from a national CTO? Would a national online government performance scorecard serve a useful purpose? Would these scorecards, if they established themselves at all levels of government, and as instruments of persuasion in political campaigns, be good or bad for society? And would scorecarding make sense in the political cultures of other nations?