I find myself simultaneously surprised and not surprised. Surprised on the count that, well, it's the fricking White House. Not surprised in some perverse way that this is so endemic that it goes all the way to the top. I can't say how many places I've worked at that have clusters of those stone-age machines. Beady little monitors, bargain basement white cases, under-maintained and yellowed from too much of something even though they're inside and never exposed to sunlight, probably evil radiation from poor-excuse-for-an-upright-walking-primate management.
My cousin is a sys admin at a local hospital, and relayed to me some of the best stories yet. In one back room at the hospital was an old computer, like a 486 or something, that had simply refused to die and they put it to work doing some simple computations for...something. Then he told me about the closet full of old hardware, that included, and maybe someone here recalled the brand and model, the first modem for home PC's. To quote my cousin, he had gone back the beginning of time. http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/patterson/34463
President Obama might be keeping his BlackBerry, but his tech-savvy staffers are reportedly stunned by the West Wing's painfully antiquated gear, not to mention a constricting, Web 2.0-stifling catalog of security and record-keeping regulations.
As this funny/sad story in the Washington Post reports, Obama's team arrived at the White House Tuesday to find only a handful of laptops, old PCs running outdated software, disconnected phone lines, and a series of rules and regulations that essentially forbid anything resembling Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or AIM.
Indeed, as the Post points out, Obama's sleek new White House Web site is looking pretty weak right now, with only five posts (as of Thursday morning) on the official White House blog (including a "Hello World" post and a video of Obama's inaugural address, minus comments), a couple of executive orders, no pool reports, old bios and agenda items from the campaign, and a standard "Contact Us" Web form.
My favorite: The list of Cabinet appointments, all displayed in a basic HTML table circa 1996.
I'm sure the sketchy gear in the West Wing came as a rude shock to Obama's staff, which dazzled the nation during the campaign with its technical prowess and social-networking wizardry. But then again, government is probably one of the most tech-adverse institutions around, right up there with schools (pretty sad) and the legal community (oh, come on, Counselor—don't deny it).
Why? Again, as the Post notes, part of it is tradition, another part is security. Also: What we might call an innocuous e-mail or tweet, a White House lawyer would call evidence.
Obama and his administration have promised transparency of government—especially though its White House Web site—and I have high hopes they can achieve it. That said, they're facing an uphill battle.