Webcast interview from the Government 2.0 Summit

I’ve been attending the Government 2.0 Summit in Washington this week, along with a lot of friends and colleagues from various spots in Silicon Valley, the international tech world, and federal, state, or local government agencies. If you want to follow along on Twitter, there’s a great number of attendees posting real-time notes and comments throughout the sessions.

Over the past couple of months I’ve participated with many colleagues planning the kick-off Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase, which highlighted fantastic new-technology projects from government agencies across the country. One of the great projects showcased is www.NeighborsforNeighbors.org, a collaborative website of rich services run by Joseph Porcelli (on Twitter he’s @josephporcelli). Among the other services on the site is a webcast series of great interviewst all levels, from across the country. , and this afternoon I sat down for a chat.

You can watch it below, on their site, or over on the archived kyte.tv site  - lots of laughs as we talk about my varied experiences in government, and why Microsoft is focusing intently on enabling enterprise Government 2.0 capabilities.  Fun stuff!

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Government Transparency circa 1837

A longtime government watcher told me recently that she’s becoming overwhelmed with the volume of information and self-echoing commentary on “government transparency,” in the  form of official blogs, citizen blogs, Twitter streams, conferences, and even in the pages of those quaint things called “books.”

Save some time. Here is the only piece you need to read about the subject of government openness, with all its implications for honest policy, court politics, and citizen empowerment.  And as you might expect, it’s a fairy tale.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Go on, read it – you haven’t read it since childhood, have you? It’s short, so after you finish it take a moment, if you like, to comment back with your thoughts.

The full text follows, translated from Kejserens nye Klæder,  by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen. There’s also an intellectually annotated version here at SurLaLune, by Information Science scholar Heidi Ann Heiner.

   ~   ~   ~  

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.

Emperors New ClothesWord of the Emperor’s refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor’s vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind. “We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.”

The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel’s strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor’s curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels. “Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you.” The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately. “Just tell us what you need to get started and we’ll give it to you.” The two scoundrels asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working.

The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense. “Go and see how the work is proceeding,” the Emperor told him, “and come back to let me know.” The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrels. “We’re almost finished, but we need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!”

The old man bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead. “I can’t see anything,” he thought. “If I see nothing, that means I’m stupid, or worse, incompetent!” If the prime minister admitted that he didn’t see anything, he would be discharged from his office. “What a marvelous fabric, he said then. “I’ll certainly tell the Emperor.”

The two scoundrels rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work. Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit. “Come in,” the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two scoundrels pretended to be holding large roll of fabric. “Here it is your Highness, the result of our labor,” the scoundrels said. “We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is.”

Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better.

Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn’t know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing. The farce continued as the two scoundrels had foreseen it. Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth. “Your Highness, you’ll have to take Emperors New Clothes 2off your clothes to try on your new ones.” The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved. “Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me,” the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. “You’ve done a fine job.”

“Your Majesty,” the prime minister said, “we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit.” The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent. “All right,” he said. “I will grant the people this privilege.” He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed.

A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. Applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd. Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: “Look at the Emperor’s new clothes. They’re beautiful!” “What a marvelous train!” “And the colors, the colors of that beautiful fabric, I have never seen anything like it in my life!”

They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage. “The Emperor is naked,” he said.

“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away.

But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: “The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It’s true!”

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent.

So he stood, stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle, carrying the train that wasn’t really there.

The End

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Obama Team Infighting on Intelligence

The easiest prediction in Washington is this one: “bureaucratic turf war.” The Obama Administration isn’t immune. Several months ago when the president-elect announced his names for DNI and CIA director, I put forth this idea:  “Swap Blair and Panetta: A Modest Proposal.”  In it I wondered, between the two of them, “Who gets the top bunk?”

Well, they still haven’t figured that out yet. 

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Way Ahead and Far Behind

Today’s Washington Post has a story on its front page: “Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages.”

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.”

“What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.”  -Washington Post

Some say that whoever has been responsible for information technology in the White House itself should be fired — but then perhaps the change of Administration just took care of that  :-) 

Overall, this situation is familiar to anyone who has worked in what I call “Big-G  IT” or the information technology of a federal government agency. I’ve argued about its challenges and sub-optimality before: see my previous pieces on “Roadmap for Innovation: From the Center to the Edge,” and more specifically “Puncturing Circles of Bureaucracy.”  In that latter piece back in March of 2008, I wrote about the “the defensive perimeters of overwhelming bureaucratic torpor,” and the frustrating reality within much of Big Government: “Federal employees have an entire complex of bizarrely-incented practices and career motivations, which make progress on technology innovation very difficult, not to mention general business-practice transformation as a whole.”

Here’s the truly frustrating, mind-bending part: it isn’t always true!  Other elements of the White House have cutting-edge, world-class technologies operating day in, day out.

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Swap Panetta and Blair: A Modest Proposal

First, a quick story from when I was working in government.

Not long after the initial establishment of a “Director of National Intelligence,” the DNI CIO held an inaugural “DNI Information Sharing Conference” in Denver in the summer of 2006. I was asked to sit on a panel about “Innovation across the Intelligence Community,” representing the Defense Intelligence Agency and sharing the stage with two counterparts, from the CIA and NSA.  Our panel chair was Mr. CJ Chapla, then the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the old Intelink Management Office, redubbed “Intelligence Community Enterprise Services,” an office now under the Office of the DNI (ODNI). CJ asked the three of us to describe briefly the goals and projects we were each working on, and in seriatim that’s what we did for 90 minutes or so.

When it was time for questions, the very first audience-member asked: “It seems that each of you are independently working on, and paying for, very similar kinds of technology projects. It would make sense to combine or rationalize the work, so why are you continuing to do it independently?” Continue reading

DHS Job Opening for Cyber Security CTO

There’s been much press attention to the promised new position of “Federal Chief Technology Officer” in the new Obama Administration, but the government has another vitally important CTO opening, and the job advertisement just got posted.

Agency: Department Of Homeland Security, DHS Headquarters
Sub Agency: National Cyber Security Center
Job Announcement Number: CHCO-08-055DHS
Title: Chief Technology Officer
Salary Range: 117,787.00 – 177,000.00 USD
Series & Grade: [Senior Executive Service] ES-2210-00/00
Duty Location: Washington DC Metro Area, DC

   – USAJOBS.com listing 

 

dhs-logo1I received an email last week from a DHS friend quietly asking that I “publicize” the listing once it was posted, which was scheduled to be last week.  I checked for it online Friday – the first day applications were to be accepted – but must have looked too early for I didn’t see it listed.  That’s understandable, given the holidays, so I checked again last night, prompted by a note from Bob Gourley of CrucialPoint, and the listing was live.

The listing has an application deadline of Thursday, January 15, 2009, so if you’re interested in applying you had better get cracking.

Let’s look at a couple of the specific points mentioned in the job announcement. Continue reading

Elbowing for Obama influence between new CTO, new cyber czar

Today’s Friday – usually a big news day in Washington, whether by design (bury bad news late in a deep weekend news hole) or by human error (bureaucrats tried all week to get something done and slipped it in at the deadline).  There should be Obama cabinet announcements today, and meanwhile tech luminaries across the country are sitting by their phones, drumming their fingers and hoping for a call offering them the position of the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Norm Lorentz, who was OMB’s first-ever CTO, told C-SPAN this week that “If I were asked, I would serve in a heartbeat.”

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