Chance for Change

The next president has an opportunity to use technology to reshape government.

From an information technology perspective, this presidential election presents a stark choice: On the one hand, you have John McCain, who professes to be just learning how to use computers and the Internet. On the other, you have Barack Obama, who's comfortable communicating on a BlackBerry and has made Web 2.0 technologies a centerpiece of his voter outreach effort.

Regardless of their personal technology preferences, either candidate, if elected, will face a series of IT issues that will be critical to his efforts to implement his agenda. But more than that, he will be handed an opportunity to leverage technology in the service of much loftier goals.

As Alan Balutis, former chief information officer at the Commerce Department, notes in the roundtable discussion featured in this special issue, the coming administration has the "chance to not only make some improvements in government, but to reshape government itself and reshape even our governance process, the way people and citizens interact and deal with government."

In that respect, it's a good thing both candidates are presenting themselves as agents of change. As noted by the participants in the roundtable discussion-sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management-the next president won't have much choice but to confront some serious technology issues. Securing the information government gathers and maintains in its computer systems has become a critical priority.

Effective information sharing has become a linchpin of the effort to thwart terrorist attacks. And a new generation of citizens-not to mention federal employees-has grown accustomed to interacting with their leaders and each other online and using wireless devices.

That means officials in the federal technology world have a choice of their own. They can continue to see themselves-and present themselves to others-as pure technologists, responsible for making the technological trains run on time. Or they can become active participants in developing and implementing their agencies' strategic business plans. These days, IT is more than just an enabler or efficiency booster. It is woven into every activity of government.

Many federal IT officials already are well on their way to becoming integral players in the business of their agencies. Others-and maybe the politicians who hope to lead them-have some catching up to do. It's going to be an interesting four years.

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