You Have a Friend Request from The White House
Peter Swire Explains Web 2.0 Technologies and Federal Policy
Peter Swire talks with Managing Editor Andrew Pratt About Web 2.0 and Federal Policy
Listen online, download the full conversation, or subscribe via iTunes.
The Obama campaign demonstrated previously unmatched prowess with Web 2.0 technology. But it’s not the campaign anymore, says Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Peter Swire, and the shift into governance over the past few months has raises questions about how those same tools can play a role in communications between the administration and the public.
During the Obama-Biden transition, Swire was an attorney for the New Media team that operated the transition website, change.gov, and developed the current whitehouse.gov. In a set of new reports from CAP, he introduces the Web 2.0 challenges in the Obama administration, outlines legal and policy considerations for new media concerns, and explains issues with federal technology procurement.
Swire joined Science Progress Managing Editor Andrew Plemmons Pratt in a podcast discussion to talk about how these issues affect federal web managers, business, and citizens. To listen, see the audio player in the sidebar, download the mp3, or subscribe via iTunes.
More on White House 2.0 from CAP:
- It’s Not the Campaign Any More
How the White House Is Using Web 2.0 Technology So Far
- Six New Media Challenges: Legal and Policy Considerations for Federal Use of Web 2.0 Technology
- How to Buy Free Software: Procuring Web 2.0 Technology for the Federal Government
- Video: White House 2.0
- Event: Web 2.0 and the Federal Government with Tim O’Reilly
There are a few key differences between the Obama campaign and Administration, Swire said. One is scale: many more people are eager to send the White House comments, but there are few interns to respond. Second is the issue of clearance. While working in the Clinton administration as chief counselor for privacy, Swire learned that multiple agencies must weigh in before an official statement can appear on the Internet. “Doing a quick and dirty Web 2.0,” he said, “doesn’t cut it in the White House.”
These changes are why some Web 2.0 tools are lacking from administration websites. The fact that the campaign’s New Media team was condensed from 170 members to only about 10 in the White House is another reason. According to Swire, the size of this team “is an unbelievable victory,” as these staff positions came at the expense of others, perhaps in areas like health care or the economy. However, Swire said, attempting to do the same job on a larger scale with much less manpower has the New Media team thinking, “Wow man this is a lot harder than it was.”
The administration met technology challenges the moment they stepped into the White House this January, when some desks did not even have working computers. Security concerns about various web tools are real, but so are federal employees’ needs for tools like and social networking sites that help mobilize people behind issues, Swire said. Many federal agencies have closed down access to Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, but they need to recognize that these are “tools of business for the federal government” and not just “weird things that leftover teenagers are using.” Still, “if there’s a sloppy person who is using a Blackberry and they’re letting hackers into the White House, then that’s a major deal,” he explained.
Looking at Web 2.0 tools can also help address accessibility issues, as the federal government is bound to accessibility rules outlined in the Rehabilitation Act. For example, federal websites cannot place the colors red and green together so colorblind people can understand the content and government videos must provide closed captioning for those who auditorily impaired. Web 2.0 technologies used by the government have to meet those same standards, Swire said.
Swire believes companies that build Web 2.0 software will start thinking ahead on accessibility issues even though it can be a financial burden, as many hope the feds will use their products. “The government here plays an educational function to show what’s possible and what’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Despite the obstacles to Web 2.0 technology, Swire is confident that it will continue to grow in this administration. Weekly video addresses are up, and so are the White House Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts. “A lot is happening but there’s still less happening than there will be when we figure out how to solve some of these problems,” Swire said.
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