DQI Bureau
New Update

All eyes are on the US President-elect Barack Obama, who will assume charge

of his office on January 20, 2009. He has also set an ambitious agenda for

e-governance. Obama has very successfully used information technology IT in his

presidential campaign. For example, according to reports on

more than 280,000 people created accounts, users created over 6,500 grass-roots

volunteer groups and organized more than 13,000 off line events using the

website, and over 15,000 policy ideas were submitted through the website. The

Internet operation was looked after by ninety-five people. Obama has built a

treasure trove of database of more than 10 mn supporters.


Since change was the main plank of Obamas election campaign, the

transition site has also been named after change, set up as

More is expected from him in the field of IT and e-governance once he enters the

White House.

What then is Obamas agenda for e-governance? In a nutshell, it is open

government. He, however, has many items in his agenda but the following ten

items appear to be particularly noteworthy:

Transparent and Connected Democracy: The agenda proposes to integrate

citizens into the actual business of government by a number of measures

including Making government data available online in universally accessible

formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and

take action in their own communities, thereby lifting the veil from secret

deals in Washington with a website, a search engine, and other web tools that

enable citizens to easily track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and

lobbyist contacts with government officials.


Open Government: All available technologies and methods are proposed to be

used to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to

change the way business is conducted in Washington, giving Americans the chance

to participate in government deliberations and decision making in ways that were

not possible only a few years ago. Most modern communications infrastructure

will be used to realize this vision.

Federal Chief Technology Officer: The agenda proposes to appoint the

nations first CTO to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the

right infrastructure, policies and services for the twenty-first century. The

CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an inter-agency effort,

working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the

federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share

best practices.

Openness of the Internet: Realizing the importance of the Internet as the

most open network in history, the agenda proposes to maintain the openness of

the Internet. The agenda strongly supports the principle of network neutrality

to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet. Users must be free

to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They

have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans.


Protection of Children: An important item on the agenda is protection of

children on the Internet. The agenda proposes to work to give parents the tools

to prevent reception of programming that they find offensive on television and

on digital media. Again, it will encourage improvements to the existing

voluntary rating system, exploiting new technologies like tagging and filtering,

so that parents can better understand what content their children will see, and

have the tools to respond. The agenda treats a sanity not censorship approach

of the Common Sense Media, a private entity, as a model.

Public Media 2.0: The agenda will encourage the creation of Public Media 2.0

the next generation of public media that will create the Sesame Street of the

Digital Age and other video and interactive programming that educates and

informs. The agenda will support the transition of existing public broadcasting

entities and help renew their founding vision in the digital world.


Right to Privacy: The agenda notes that dramatic increases in computing

power, decreases in storage costs and huge flows of information that

characterize the digital age bring enormous benefits, but also create risk of

abuse. We need sensible safeguards that protect privacy in this dynamic new

world. The agenda therefore proposes to strengthen privacy protections for the

digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and

business accountable for violations of personal privacy.

Next Generation Broadband: The agenda realizes the importance of broadband in

so many words: Full broadband penetration can enrich democratic discourse,

enhance competition, provide economic growth, and bring significant consumer

benefits. Moreover, improving our infrastructure will foster competitive markets

for Internet access and services that ride on that infrastructure.

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights at Home and Abroad: The agenda

recognizes the importance of intellectual property rights by stating that

intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the

industrial age and emphasizes the need to update and reform our copyright and

patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while

ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated. The agenda

proposes to protect intellectual property rights at home and abroad.


Healthcare: The agenda proposes to invest $10 bn a year over the next five

years to move the US health care system to broad adoption of standards-based

electronic health information systems, including electronic health records and

phase in requirements for full implementation of health IT and commit the

necessary federal resources to make it happen.

Many of these items are routine, mundane and incremental. Nevertheless three

items of his agenda are striking and deserve a close look.

First open government. This will be a very challenging task. The issues

here are the extent to which government will open up consistent with the

requirements of security and protection of privacy of citizens, and making

government transparent and accountable. Obama, of course, has taken up the

gauntlet when he makes a daring commitment in his agenda: (he) will use the

most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to

special interest groups and lobbyists. In a speech in Des Moines, LA, on

November 10, 2007 Obama had forcefully declared:


I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting

the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in

this race to take on lobbyistsand won. They have not funded my campaignand

they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am President.

Blueprint for Change

Obama and Bidens Plan for America declares Obama and Biden will close the

revolving door between the executive branch and K-Street lobbying shops. Their

appointees will serve the American people, not their own financial interests.

It will be quite interesting to watch as to how Obama and his team goes about it

as lobbyists are firmly entrenched in Washington, DC.

Second citizen participation in government decision-making. An integral

part of open government, it is also a very challenging area as despite living in

democratic regimes citizens have no participation in decision-making, a task

performed singularly by the legislators who, once elected, forget about the

citizens until the next election. The nearest governments have gone for citizen

participation in government decision-making is to seek citizens views on

governments specific proposals. But this is usually an eye wash as citizens

views may be taken as a mere formality without being taken into account in

decision-making, leave alone having an impact in decision-making.


Third, federal chief technology officer. This has been talked about for

quite some time. It is going to be a very challenging task for the incumbent as

co-ordination is no cakewalk. On the contrary, it is quite problematic as CTO/CIO

will protect his turf and the method of working. Quite often he is immune to

external advice. The agenda proposes to suitably legally empower him. In such a

case he will be a Super-CTO or Super CIO and his authority is likely to be

resented by agency CTO/CIO.

Here is, however, wishing Obama and his team all the best in implementing his

ambitious agenda.

DC Misra

The author is IAS (Retd). Former Chairman, task Force or IT Policy for Delhi
and now independent e-governance consultant