New job challenges in the White House

whitehousephoneStarting a new job is always a challenge. You have to learn where your office is, where the coffee machine is, and the best route from each to the bathroom. Now imagine how complicated it must be when an entirely new administration starts working in the White House! In addition to the normal challenges, President Obama and his staff suffered through a number of surprising headaches.

For example, many phone lines had been disconnected. Dialing numbers inside the building often resulted in a busy signal. Software installed on PCs left in the building was outdated. And worst of all, the folks so keen on their Facebooks and Twitters found that government regulations drastically curtail how they can communicate.

“It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of his new digs.

Several staffers arrived to find that they had no computers or phones assigned to them. Others struggled with too many computers, each for specific tasks. Mac-users were forced to use Windows systems. Few people had laptops.

This wasn’t (apparently) a case of the previous administration intentionally creating problems for the new one. It’s just that past administrations haven’t been as technologically experienced as the current one, so things that many of us have learned to take for granted in the last 8 years — instant messaging, email, Facebook — weren’t utilized by the outgoing White House staff, and as such the White House infrastructure didn’t need to support them.

Will Barack Obama’s Twitter account get retired now? It hasn’t been updated since the 19th. Will we see a regularly updated blog at Will new staffers be allowed to access all the social networking sites on which they’ve come to rely?

Initial indicators are positive: the White House counsel approved (at least temporary) use of GMail accounts for the press office so that information could continue to flow. If GMail, with it’s notorious “all your data are belong to us” policies, can get approval, hopefully other sites can get approval in order to bring the White House into 2009.

The lethargic beast that is the Federal Government certainly doesn’t instill in me a lot of confidence that they’re using the best technology available to them (remember, it wasn’t long ago when Senator Stevens described the Internet as a series of tubes!), or using whatever technology they do have to the best of its abilities. Hopefully President Obama gets that house in order.