Barack Obama’s presidency saw the first federal chief information officer, chief technology officer, chief data officer and chief data scientist. The nation’s cloud-first policy strives to lead lower governments by example and shake the expectation that government must always trail the private sector. Obama’s administration committed itself to openness and encouraged a nationwide effort at all levels of government through the creation of the Open Government Initiative. The Open Data Act was signed into law by the president in 2014, a hard-fought and significant victory for transparency at the federal level.
But when HealthCare.gov flopped expensively in 2013, it appeared for a time that all of the president’s tech championing had created a golem, an amorphous horror to haunt its creators. But for all the analysis after the fact, that technological bottom ushered in a host of private-sector talent to fix the website. They fixed it, and then set about repairing some of the other major issues plaguing federal IT projects.
The creation of agencies like 18F and the U.S. Digital Service are an acknowledgment by the president’s technology cabinet that there are problems in federal procurement and service delivery that can be solved by new technologies and technologists who have traditionally worked outside of government. This new mindset must have rubbed off on at least a few people, because technology in the White House is improving.
The White House is investing in personalized medicine, smart cities, cybersecurity, smart grid technology, smart vehicles and community broadband. The president makes himself accessible to younger audiences by appearing on new forms of media like Web shows and podcasts. The world is changing and the president’s message is that government can change with it.