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Tom Temin


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Posted: 6/26/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

When I left my job in publishing two and a half years ago, some friends and I got one of those retirement letters from then-President Bush.  Technically I wasn’t retiring, and I was fairly certain President Bush didn’t sign it personally.  But still, I was tickled to have it.  My departure was also written into the Congressional Record, courtesy of former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.  Both are framed on my me-fabulous-me Washington Wall in my home office.  C’mon, you’d keep and frame them too. 

I signed up for the White House e-mails.  The first message I received from sender “President Barack Obama” I nearly erased, thinking it was spam.  But no, the White House operation really does send out legitimate e-mails under the President’s sender line.  They do it infrequently enough that it’s not annoying.
 
The one from last night was to announce the United We Serve public service effort, outlined at serve.gov.  It included a video message from the first lady.
 
This administration’s use of new media – if you can consider an e-mail with a few links and a video new media – strikes me as shrewd and effective.  In that great political novel, Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah, there’s a scene in which the upstart mayoral candidate, who understands the power of the new medium of television, uses his fetching family in an ad.  The baby climbs into her father’s (the candidate’s) lap, revealing a cute, diapered bottom to the citywide television audience.
 
“Oh by God that’s good,” exclaimed a local pol, who’d been watching the commercial intently.
 
That’s how I sometimes feel about Obama’s communications efforts – regardless of the message.
 
And yet I am a little put off by the call to volunteer action.  Throughout my life I’ve been inspired by volunteers in many fields.  One who comes to mind was named Larry Bishop.  He was the owner of a coffee shop in Peterborough, N.H.  He was the volunteer fire chief – sometimes showing up at fires will with flour on his hands – and a tireless Little League coach for so many years he was honored one snowy night at the Manchester Union Leader annual baseball dinner.  Ted Williams attended.
 
Such people don’t need government admonition to contribute mightily to their communities.  They are motivated by some inner drive.  Others, who couldn’t be bothered to hold their gum wrapper until the next trash barrel, live beyond being shamed or cajoled into volunteer contributions.
 
There’s nothing wrong with the president asking people to volunteer.  But if sparking volunteering requires admonishment from the president and first lady, it makes you wonder what ever happened to community, church, and family.
Posted: 6/26/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

When I left my job in publishing two and a half years ago, some friends and I got one of those retirement letters from then-President Bush.  Technically I wasn’t retiring, and I was fairly certain President Bush didn’t sign it personally.  But still, I was tickled to have it.  My departure was also written into the Congressional Record, courtesy of former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.  Both are framed on my me-fabulous-me Washington Wall in my home office.  C’mon, you’d keep and frame them too. 

I signed up for the White House e-mails.  The first message I received from sender “President Barack Obama” I nearly erased, thinking it was spam.  But no, the White House operation really does send out legitimate e-mails under the President’s sender line.  They do it infrequently enough that it’s not annoying.
 
The one from last night was to announce the United We Serve public service effort, outlined at serve.gov.  It included a video message from the first lady.
 
This administration’s use of new media – if you can consider an e-mail with a few links and a video new media – strikes me as shrewd and effective.  In that great political novel, Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah, there’s a scene in which the upstart mayoral candidate, who understands the power of the new medium of television, uses his fetching family in an ad.  The baby climbs into her father’s (the candidate’s) lap, revealing a cute, diapered bottom to the citywide television audience.
 
“Oh by God that’s good,” exclaimed a local pol, who’d been watching the commercial intently.
 
That’s how I sometimes feel about Obama’s communications efforts – regardless of the message.
 
And yet I am a little put off by the call to volunteer action.  Throughout my life I’ve been inspired by volunteers in many fields.  One who comes to mind was named Larry Bishop.  He was the owner of a coffee shop in Peterborough, N.H.  He was the volunteer fire chief – sometimes showing up at fires will with flour on his hands – and a tireless Little League coach for so many years he was honored one snowy night at the Manchester Union Leader annual baseball dinner.  Ted Williams attended.
 
Such people don’t need government admonition to contribute mightily to their communities.  They are motivated by some inner drive.  Others, who couldn’t be bothered to hold their gum wrapper until the next trash barrel, live beyond being shamed or cajoled into volunteer contributions.
 
There’s nothing wrong with the president asking people to volunteer.  But if sparking volunteering requires admonishment from the president and first lady, it makes you wonder what ever happened to community, church, and family.
Posted: 6/22/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Fools, drunks, and children tell the truth – one of my favorite sayings.  At the recent Symantec Government Symposium in Washington, I moderated a panel which a very young and very recent government hire told what he felt was truth.  Not exactly a child, he was in fact one of those perceptive young people who see things and articulate them so clearly they are capable of irritating their elders. 

Panelist John Shueler is all of 25.  He’d worked for two years doing new media for the Obama campaign, which helped him get a job as new media specialist at the Energy Department.  And already he is speaking on panels.  Yet who better to be on a panel to talk about the next generation of Federal employees?  Isn’t Schueler the sort of person Federal agencies want to attract?  He has a normal haircut, wears a suit and tie (at least that day), and had no apparent piercings or tattoos.
 
New media is something that not every boomer-aged manager natively understands.  So afterwards I did hear a little in the vein, “Humph, what does he know?”
 
Shueler, though, had told what I thought was a devastating anecdote about the Federal hiring process.  A political science graduate, he had gone to a collegiate job fair where the State Department had a booth.  As Shueler related the incident, he started to hand his resume to the State Department representative.  The hiring officer refused the resume, instead instructing Shueler to go to the Federal jobs Web site, submit the resume electronically, blah blah blah.  And maybe if you’re lucky you’ll hear from Uncle Sam.  I know what my response would be to that song-and-dance.  Clue:  It would contain the words “job” and “shove.”  In fact, decades ago I sent a resume to the CIA.  My rejection letter came a year later.
 
At the Symantec panel, Shueler pointed out – perhaps obviously – that other potential employers at the same job fair were offering conditional employment on the spot.
 
About new media:  certainly it’s not the point of government.  But the stodgy old guard ought to listen to babes like Shueler, even if they do sound wise beyond their years.  If use of new media tools can help your agency better reach its constituencies; help your program improve performance and prestige; or help attract the talent you need, then learn about it from the people who live and breathe it.
 
If you’ve raised kids, or taught them, or coached them, I hope you’ve experienced one of those exquisite moments when one of them teaches you something.  If you haven’t, ask yourself whether your mind is open enough to that possibility.
Posted: 6/18/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Melissa Hathaway is a woman in limbo.  Not the dance so popular at Bar Mitzvah parties, but in not knowing if she’ll get the job as White House cyber coordinator.  She is on the National Security Council now, having completed the 60-day review and endured the infighting before release of the strategy a couple of weeks ago.  Seems like she ought to get it.  But at that level, nothing is certain. 

The president, any president, has a lot of fish to fry, and while to the IT community the cyber coordinator announcement is holding up the Western World, the president has other pressing priorities.
 
A lot of people are pulling for Hathaway.  She got a warm reception Tuesday as luncheon speaker at the Symantec Government Symposium in Washington.
 
A day earlier, she’d attended the speech by Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, at which he did not announce the establishment of DoD’s cyber command.  I watched from a distance as a couple of earnest business development types performed the servile business card presentation to Hathaway.  No doubt they were describing the cyber product to end all cyber products, asking if they could visit her office for just a few minutes.  I didn’t overhear the conversation, but I could see the body language.  It must be tough, I thought, for someone so prominent, even if momentarily, to stand patiently through these mini-pitches.  Especially if you are waiting for a really big call from Presidential Personnel, or maybe the Chief of Staff.
 
That is one of those little Washington dances, the handing of the card with the fervent hope it will eventually lead to a big contract, or at least the ability to report back to your company or client that you had a meeting with, say, Melissa Hathaway.  Pity, because even if she gets the nod from Obama, it is unlikely the position will involve source selection.
 
Hathaway is keeping up a solid front.  Her Symantec speech was a little dry, basically a summary of the report.  Sure enough, just moments after she concluded, the line queued up to have a word with her.
 
I’d never met Hathaway.  But she was sitting at the table next to mine, so a minute before her speech, just as a waitress set down her fruit salad, I sidled over to introduce myself.  She was polite.  But I didn’t have the heart to hand her my business card.
Posted: 6/17/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Security

It was the announcement that wasn’t.  The other day, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington hosted Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III.  His purpose was to announce, in a formal way, the creation the Cyber Command under the Strategic Command, or STRATCOM.  A crowd of vendors and Federal cyber security types crowded the CSIS’s K Street auditorium.  Melissa Hathaway, the acting cyber security advisor to President Obama was there.  CSIS President John Hamre, former Department of Defense (DoD) comptroller (and a possible successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates) kicked off the meeting. 

Trouble is, Gates didn’t have the announcement in mind when he simply had not yet made up his mind about the new command.  So Lynn, with half the cyber security community there having shown up, went ahead with his speech.
 
As he described what presumably Gates will approve, Lynn made the cyber command sound like something tightly proscribed in its scope.  He took pains to point out that Homeland Security would still be the technology locus for civilian agency cyber security.  “It is not about militarizing cyber security,” he said.  He recommended the government continue to use the technical expertise of the National Security Agency.  And he said the DoD would pretty much stay out of protecting .com domains.
 
So at this point the cyber command is in a wait ‘n’ see limbo.
Posted: 6/17/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Security

It was the announcement that wasn’t.  The other day, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington hosted Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III.  His purpose was to announce, in a formal way, the creation the Cyber Command under the Strategic Command, or STRATCOM.  A crowd of vendors and Federal cyber security types crowded the CSIS’s K Street auditorium.  Melissa Hathaway, the acting cyber security advisor to President Obama was there.  CSIS President John Hamre, former Department of Defense (DoD) comptroller (and a possible successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates) kicked off the meeting. 

Trouble is, Gates didn’t have the announcement in mind when he simply had not yet made up his mind about the new command.  So Lynn, with half the cyber security community there having shown up, went ahead with his speech.
 
As he described what presumably Gates will approve, Lynn made the cyber command sound like something tightly proscribed in its scope.  He took pains to point out that Homeland Security would still be the technology locus for civilian agency cyber security.  “It is not about militarizing cyber security,” he said.  He recommended the government continue to use the technical expertise of the National Security Agency.  And he said the DoD would pretty much stay out of protecting .com domains.
 
So at this point the cyber command is in a wait ‘n’ see limbo.
Posted: 6/8/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Web 2.0

The Flower Drum Girl sang of “a hundred million miracles happ’ning every day...” Those lyrics came to mind watching a demonstration the other day of www.data.gov.  It was conducted by CIO Vivek Kundra in a conference room at the Office of Management and Budget. 

I hadn’t met Kundra in person, which is one reason I traipsed into the Old Executive Office Building.  (I know it is now called the Eisenhower, but I don’t call 6th Avenue in New York “Avenue of the Americas” either.  I know a guy who still calls JFK airport Idlewild. Another blog sometime.)  Anyhow, Kundra doesn’t bring the 25 years of tough agency management, budget, personnel, and just plain bureaucratic chops to the job that his predecessor, Karen Evans, did. She could kick butt and take names if need be.  Sometimes in the Serengeti Plain that is the Federal government, you’ve got to prod some furry backsides with your horns to get the flock moving.  But Kundra is articulate, imaginative and, well, pleasant.  He’s still learning but I get the sense he’s a fast learner.
 
Kundra said that within two weeks, or by the end of June, the data feeds coming into data.gov would grow from 87 to 100,000.  Not quite a miracle, but a remarkable development should it come to pass.  If so, it means the site and its purposes have resonance with data proprietors all over government.
 
I’ve written earlier that I like data.gov.  I think it has the most promise of the myriad of Web sites that have been launched by the Obama administration.  One reason is that, ambitious as it is, data.gov requires the least effort by a central staff.  Pushing of data feeds obligates not only OMB, but rather the originating agencies.  That makes OMB’s job one of notifying agencies to start sending data, keeping an electronic clipboard of who is complying, and managing the standards.
 
To work, data feeds have to be in universal, machine-readable formats.  Kundra chuckled when mentioning one agency that sent data in an Adobe Portable Document Format.  Government information resides in many formats, and in some cases in old systems.  Just last week one manager told me his agency still has a Wang computer system running simply because no one has ever made the effort to recompile or otherwise migrate the application.  But in such cases, maybe the existence of data.gov will prompt system owners to update their formats.
 
Kundra predicts an ecosystem will develop around Federal data by virtue of its sources being aggregated in a single portal, or as he called it, platform.  Developers will combine sources into specific applications and thus give rise to a market in scope similar to that supporting the iPhone.  I am a skeptic usually, but I like the imaginative thinking in that notion for data.gov.
Posted: 6/1/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

We all live online, but man, it is a trial sometimes. 

Let’s talk about news media sites first.  Regardless of how important the Web is to their future, some of the leading sites are downright terrible.  Here is my top list of sins:
 
Slow loading.  Hear that, Wall Street Journal?  My lord, you could go to sleep waiting for that site to load.
 
Junked up “print format” pages.  Almost everyone is guilty here.  The New York Times has the best printed pages – great fonts, no clutter.  But most of the sites realize the ad opportunities in the print pages. Sometimes the cover-all adds end up printing.  A few sites have no printing format (Federal Times) so printouts are nearly unintelligible without a magnifying glass.
 
Sloppy formatting.  Very ungreen.  Most sites seem to have a knack for spitting out an extra page to your printout, with nothing but fine-print boilerplate.  And, no, you can’t reuse printer paper.  It gums up most machines.  Washington Post is a big offender here.
 
Window shade ads.  Luckily the “skip this goddam thing” button (they don’t really say that) is easy to find.  Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is cutely labeled a “welcome screen” (GovExec) or, worse, sometimes you just have to wait for it to disappear (you listening, Federal Computer Week?). They are all a turnoff, and they make visitors start to get annoyed with the advertiser.  Oy vey!
 
Bizarre navigation.  There is no site without its quirks.  But my vote for local site with weirdest pathways to content is the Washington Times.
 
I complain because I like and read all of these sites and many more daily. It is not that their reporting or writing is bad, but it seems like the editors don’t pay enough attention or they don’t have enough sway over the “new media” staffs.  Big mistake.
 
Government sites have their issues.  Most of them load fast.  But I have some complaints.
 
Few sites have detailed names of media contacts.  EPA and National Science Foundations get it right.  But others, like Interior, just have a mailbox and a central phone number.  You want transparency?  How about starting with making public contacts easy to find.
 
For everyone else, why doesn’t every government site have an employee locator?
 
And the Obama administration has brought triumphalism back to administration and departmental sites.
 
Go to DHS, and what do you see?  Big colored photos of Janet Napolitano, the secretary.
 
Go to OMB?  There’s Peter Orszag smiling into the distance.
 
Energy?  Hello, Steve Chu.
 
Education has enough photos of Arne Duncan to fill a big scrapbook.
 
Interior, why that’s Ken Salazar.
 
Transportation?  Nice tie, Ray.
 
It starts at the top.  Whitehouse.gov?  Story of O.  C’mon, a little modesty guys.  What is this, continuous campaign mode?