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Where Change.gov Meets USA.gov

BY Editors | Sunday, December 14 2008

Open government web wonks and digital politics geeks (and really, why else would be you be here?) have been fascinated with the stylish online transition "campaign" waged at Change.gov by the incoming Obama Administration in formation.

But come January 20th, the real digital change action may well switch venues - keep your eye on a couple of key Federal executive branch sites for signs that Barack Obama's team really does want to change the way citizens interact with the Federal government (or not).

The crucial agency is the massive General Services Administration, pretty much the acquisition and purchasing operations center for the more than 100 agencies that report up to the President - and the agency overseeing hiring by the incoming administration. The GSA runs USA.gov, ostensibly the online portal to the government (and yes, we're descending into acronym hell, so try and bear with us) for people who want to do business with the Feds. Contained within the GSA is official guide for running a Federal government website - the aptly-named WebContent.gov.

Here's where it gets a bit arcane: "Webcontent.gov is managed by the Federal Web Managers Council, an inter-agency group of about 40 web managers from every cabinet-level agency and many independent agencies. We have representatives from both headquarters and field operations." And that Council is charged with making Federal websites "the most citizen-focused and visitor-friendly in the world."

The FWMC runs a management group and listserv for 700 government managers across the country - thus serving as the central power for what can be, what must be, and what will be in terms of social media and citizen-oriented public sector web operations. Its membership includes the White House, the State Department, Justice Department, Treasury and every Federal agency on down the line. When Barack Obama's digital media team sets out to change how the Federal government interacts with nation's citizens - and Change.gov is pretty clear on its ambitions - this is the legacy bureaucratic it will begin with. And it's likely the new national Chief Technology Officer will take over the Federal web guidelines.

That new Obama CTO will undoutedly benefit from an online survey run by Jed Sundwall and the Captura Group on government usage of social media - you can take the survey here, and it's pretty comprehensive. The survey reveals that one of the goals of the Obama technology platform is already well along: "Use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America's citizens."