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Daily Digest: For Open Government, It's Put Up (Online) Time

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 5 2009

  • Republicans' Transparency Jujitsu: With the 111th session of Congress kicking off tomorrow and a mere 15 days until President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, getting his desired $700 billion (or so) stimulus package signed, sealed, and delivered before inauguration day would take a feat of super-human legislating. Not impossible, but it would take all the various pieces that make up how a bill comes become a law to fit into place nearly perfectly. What could complicate that goal: a proposal promoted by top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell to put the stimulus plan online for a full week, to allow the public to vet its flaws and merits.* Obama, it goes without saying, campaigned on transparency. And from a purely political perspective, Republicans are rather cleverly forcing him to make a tradeoff between a stimulus package he desperately wants and the open and accountable government he promised.

  • A Chief Technologist, Perhaps This Week?: Is it our turn yet? Pressure is building for Obama to finally name a Chief Technology Officer, the nation's first. Google's Vint Cerf is among those getting a bit antsy to see who will fill the post and what authority the job-holder with have. The waiting is driving some people to have wild fantasies, like the idea that Steve Jobs might be the pick. (Crazy, right? Right?) Obama aides are now saying the pick will be made Wednesday, made alongside that for a "Chief Performance Officer" post. We'll see, but it certainly doesn't imply a high-priority level on the job to have waited this long -- especially since it's possible we might get a second Commerce Secretary before we get a first CTO. Would a Jobsian figure take a job with that low of a profile? Doubtful.

  • A Model for a Poli-Technologist Who Gets Stuff Done: Washington DC's CTO Vivek Kundra is profiled by the Washington Post's Kim Hart. Kundra, writes Hart, is focused on performance, using a vaguely-explained "happiness level" to decide whether IT projects are worth saving. What makes Kundra a good subject for profiles is that he sees government as a petri dish for tech breakthroughs, not the stagnant backwater of innovation that convention wisdom sees.

  • A 140-Character Glimpse at the Future of Diplomacy: Reporting on the Israeli consulate in New York's use of Twitter that we covered last week, the New York Times' Noam Cohen seems unsure what to make of it. On the one hand, Cohen seems intrigued by such boiled-down statecraft. On the other, though, he throws in the nearly-obligatory "this sure is different!" dig, contrasting it the mellifluous but, frankly, incomprehensible diplo-speak of former Israeli ambassador Abba Eban. Cohen quotes David Saranga, who heads up media relations for the New York consulate: "I speak to every demographic in a language he understands...If someone only speaks Spanish, I speak in Spanish; if someone is using a platform like Twitter, I want to tweet." The post highlights some sample tweet questions and tweet answers from the event, so you can be the judge.

  • That's a Wrap: Change.org Ends Round One of Ideas for Change: The first round of Change.org's Ideas for Change in America contest, to which techPresident is a partner, has wrapped with about 250,000 total votes. The second phase launched this morning, and participants have 10 new votes to confer upon their top ideas. This round will run through the 15th, and the results will be presented to the Obama administration at the National Press Club the next day. In an early lead with 398 votes is "Pass Marriage Equality Rights for LGBT couples nationwide" (an idea, you might notice, that Obama opposes). Asked what happens if, say, legalizing marijuana is the top item, Change.org managing editor Josh Levy** tells me this: "Then we work with our non-profit partners to build a social movement around that idea, and try to actually get it done."

  • The People, They Like to Vote: We've been covering how Change.gov's Open for Question's feature is progressing, and have a pair of updates. The first: the idea of appointing a special prosecutor for the Bush administration, promoted by Democrats.com's Bob Fertik's and covered on techPres last week, has reached the top slot in the "additional issues" category. The second: with some 1.4 million votes by 47,000 people, participation averages out to a remarkable 30 votes per person -- though it's possible that that average is severely skewed by someone with a lot of free time on their hands who has voted 1.39 million times.

  • Obamas Winning Over the Neighbors: There's also been a disconnect between the people-driven ethos of the Obama campaign and the frenzy over inauguration tickets and exclusive party invites that started at about the stroke of midnight on November 5th. The President-elect seems to have recognized that. The transition will be hosting "the first-ever Neighborhood Inaugural Ball" at the Washington Convention Center on January 20th. Tickets will be free or low-cost. Some will be reserved for Washingtonians, the Obamas' new neighbors. "Through the use of interactive technology including text messaging and webcasting," says the Presidential Inauguration Commitee, "the Neighborhood Ball truly will be an event open to all Americans." We'll keep you posted on those interactive features as soon as they roll them out.

In Case You Missed It...

Matt Burton has an update on the Library of Congress's use of Flickr to crowd-source the identification of mystery photos. Matt also highlights FEMA's new cross-agency help site.

Nancy Scola reports that the Obama transition's day of service lays the groundwork for on-going volunteerism, should they choose to make use of it.

The "epic interplay between tech and politics in the 2012 presidential cycle" starts now, says Michael Tate. From diving into the classics of the field to playing World of Warcraft, Michael tells you what you need to do to get prepared.

Got tips, leads, or story ideas for the Daily Digest? Get in touch. Email tips@personaldemocracy.com or contact @techpresident on Twitter.

*Updated with a better link.

**Disclosure: Josh Levy was the former associate editor here at techPresident, and is a good friend.