Future of Obama's Web communications debated

The Presidential Records Act could cause a shift in the president-elect's online strategy.

When President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20, the trailblazing, tech-savvy way his camp communicated with supporters and the public at large will change drastically due to federal regulations like the Presidential Records Act, which puts the commander-in-chief's correspondence in the official record.

A former deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton said Friday that shift will be a major challenge for a politician who revolutionized Internet outreach and organizing.

"You have such immense freedom in a campaign -- in both speed and how you can move information -- that gets unbelievably throttled down the day you set foot in a government bureaucracy," said Jeff Eller, who is now president of Public Strategies.

Although Clinton served during the Internet's early days, his advisers found their ability to be creative "took far longer to ramp up and scale up" due to long-standing technological and regulatory restrictions, Eller said at an open government discussion hosted by Google. He advised Obama to fight for openness when in office. After the event, he told CongressDaily the White House counsel will be the toughest nut to crack.

That individual must be convinced "to go from a 'we can't do that' mindset to a 'we can do that in a way that's transparent and productive' one," he said.

Another speaker at the event, Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Cyrus Krohn, argued there has already been a behavioral change within Obama's camp. Videos they posted on YouTube during the campaign allowed user comments and ratings, while those produced by the president-elect's office do not. "It's a fundamental change in behavior of how the Web has been used that flipped overnight," he said.

But Sam Graham-Felsen, who served on Obama's new media team, said the Change.gov transition site has a community-oriented framework similar to the campaign site, www.BarackObama.com. "While you'll see differences in terms of the technical area and execution, the tone has stayed," he said.

Meanwhile, government transparency will continue to be a hot topic on Capitol Hill, speakers said. Chris Barkley, an aide for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicted that a bill Coburn introduced with Obama this session to improve USASpending.gov will resurface in 2009. The proposal would deepen the amount of information available on the database of federal awards and make the site easier to search. Meanwhile, Karina Newton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's new media director, said a growing number of bills -- including the $700 billion financial services bailout -- have had requirements for high-quality and timely disclosures of information.