You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

White House 2.0: It's All Fun and Games Until Somebody Becomes President

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, June 2 2009

It starts with the fact that what was a 170-person new media team at the height of the Obama campaign has been condensed down to fewer than a dozen or so government staffers. But the complicating differences between the campaign trail and the White House don't end there, writes Peter Swire,
law professor at Ohio State University and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. During the Obama-Biden transition, Swire served in the role as the attorney responsible for shepherding both Change.gov and the new WhiteHouse.gov safely through the creation process.

In a new CAP briefing memo released yesterday, Swire focuses on three areas that in which shape a context for the White House's web 2.0 efforts different than the one faced by the campaign: scale, clearance, and authorizing outside action.

Scale, says Swire, is informed by the reality that whereas the universe of the audience for the Obama campaign's online efforts was maybe a dozen million committed supporters, President Obama is responsible for engaging with some 300 million Americans -- many of whom didn't vote for him. With so few staffers, the challenge becomes setting up systems that help moderate the influx of input, like Open for Questions or the ongoing Open Government Initiative. But those systems quirks and shortcomings, of course, can raise new problems when the stakes are at the presidential level.

Clearance has to do with something mentioned earlier today on the blog in the context of the State Department's "21st century statecraft efforts." It can be challenging, says Swire, for employees working online to get solid, cleared information from others in the government -- particularly when those sources are busy otherwise working on the substance of the problem at hand. That reality is tied back to the fact that while communications is one of perhaps three main prongs of the campaign (the others, arguably, fundraising and field work), it is a smaller portion of what a White House must do each day.

Authorizing the actions of others outside government, writes Swire, can prove challenging because of the gray areas surrounding how non-government employees can participate in government work. Case in point: the lack of clarity over whether the Federal Advisory Committee Act governs how outside programmers might be able to code on the government's behalf.

Swire has authored two complementary reports that dive deeper into the weeds on government 2.0:

Swire's full "It's Not the Campaign Anymore" report is available here. But if you'd rather listen than read, Science Progress's Andrew Plemmons Pratt has as 23-minute audio interview with Swire. And if even that takes up too much of your time, the 5-minute video above captures the kernel of Swire's work on the topic.