What Does an Obama Administration Mean to Government IT?

Shifting funding priorities and focus on green technology investments could be some of the changes.

by / December 3, 2008

I'm writing this column a week after Barack Obama's historic election as U.S. president. Aside from the cultural and political significance of this event, the question looms of what the new administration means to Government Technology's core audience of state and local government IT professionals.

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, answered that question in November at re:public, an annual leadership retreat organized by our sister division, the Center for Digital Government. Sanger has some insight, having covered both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. A few of his predictions:

  • Among Obama's first economic moves will be to shore up ailing automakers GM and Ford. Federal aid to the U.S. auto industry -- which employs 2.5 million to 3 million workers -- would be good news for states like Michigan that have struggled with economic problems triggered by struggling auto makers and other manufacturers.
  • Obama will provide federal backing for bonds issued by state and local governments, much like the Bush administration did this year for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The move would ease the credit crunch for states, cities and counties, letting them borrow money they need to continue operating.
  • Obama will launch a significant public works infrastructure program designed to stimulate the U.S. economy. This will include bridge and highway projects -- but also focus on alternative energy and environmental issues. This would address the nation's crumbling physical infrastructure and trigger new investment in clean, green technologies.

States and localities will also confront policy changes. Several prominent CIOs attending re:public noted the Obama administration's most direct impact could stem from new federal funding priorities -- and potentially unfunded mandates. And Sanger added that the Bush administration's eight-year expansion of executive powers positions the new administration to implement change at an unprecedented rate.

Obama will likely reverse Bush-era orders that restricted stem cell research and opened some public lands to oil and gas drilling, Sanger said. "Because all of this will be done by executive order, you may see a pingpong effect with each new administration. That will make it difficult at the state and local level if you try to depend on policy direction."

Finally there was the perception among some re:public attendees that the new administration will be eager to use innovative technologies. For example, the administration is said to be studying Washington, D.C.'s stock portfolio approach to managing city IT projects.

Regardless of how it all pans out, 2009 portends to be an eventful time. So here's to a peaceful holiday season. See you next year.


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