Understanding Barack Obama’s Technology Policy

Obama is everywhere...
Yesterday, I celebrated the White House’s return to technology through Barack Obama’s multitude of gadgets.

Today, I want to talk a little about the role technology is about to take in policy. It matters to charitable organizations, because the new administration’s proposed technology policy recognizes the power of a connected population. It opens up information and allows people to share freely. Obama-Biden’s concerns about technology can be directly applied to a technologically lagging nonprofit world.

Take this phrase from the official Obama campaign website and replace every instance of “America” or “the United States” with the word “nonprofit”:

America risks being left behind in the global economy: Revolutionary advances in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields are reshaping the global economy. Without renewed efforts, the United States risks losing leadership in science, technology and innovation. As a share of the Gross Domestic Product, American federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970.

It’s the same argument I’ve been making for nonprofits embracing technology for ages. It’s the reason behind this blog.

You should read the whole technology plan to understand what’s afoot, but here are a few key items on the agenda to pay special attention to:

  • Say, “Hi,” to a new Chief Technology Officer. This isn’t the same Cybersecurity czar that the Bush Administration appointed, whose job was to lock down systems against online attacks. The CTO’s job will be just the opposite: to open the office up, including making sure officials hold open meetings that are webcasted and to introduce blogs, wikis and comments, which let regular Americans like you and me weigh in on issues that matter to us. In fact, Obama said he wants us to be able to comment for five days before legislation is signed.
  • The Internet will stay open. A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history … Barack Obama 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. Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment … Such a result would threaten innovation … It would also threaten the equality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse.
  • Open recruitment of regular citizens. Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies, not simply by soliciting opinions, but by tapping into the vast and distributed expertise of the American citizenry to help government make more informed decisions. This should sound familiar to all the congregations I’ve advised to make use of lay leadership. They may know more than you do.
  • Broadband for everyone. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access. This includes refining how we use the wireless spectrum – you’re already experiencing changes here with the move to digital cable. Have you gotten your converter box coupon yet?
  • The White House is getting a website again! Lifting the veil from secret deals in Washington with a web site, a search engine, and other web tools that enable citizens easily to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts with government officials.
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