White House in Tech Dark Ages

Disconnected phone lines, old computer software, no instant messaging, no outside access to e-mail accounts and no social networking - these were the things Obama's tech team got to see in the White House when they turned up to work on their first day.

The White House new-media team found it hard to identify the configuration of computers in the White House to do any useful updates. The team members, who were used to working on Mac systems, found computers with very old versions of Windows installed and in fact not enough computers for use. Laptops were also assigned to only a few people.

There were no immediate updates on the new White House web site regarding President Obama's busy first day on the job, which included an inaugural prayer service, an open house with the public, and meetings with his economic and national security teams. On Thursday 22nd, the site was updated with information about the recent executive orders but no pool reports or new blog entries. President Obama and his team were forced to use Gmail accounts while they waited for their White House e-mail to become active.

The new White House website is undergoing an overhaul currently and may not look as fine tuned as the Change.gov or BarackObama.com sites. Obama's new media team is letting search engines index almost everything on the site by shrinking the size of robots.txt, the file used by search engines to index the website's content, to 2 lines. The previous government had set the file size to 2377 lines to prevent the search engines from logging the data found in the white house website.

Below is the current robots.txt which can be found here:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /includes/

And the old robots.txt:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /query.html
Disallow: /omb/search
Disallow: /omb/query.html
Disallow: /expectmore/search
Disallow: /expectmore/query.html
Disallow: /results/search

and so on.....

A new blog section is opened on the White House web site which will act as an informal record of events, speeches and decisions but will not allow comments (as of now). There's no word yet on whether restricted access to Facebook, Gmail or Yahoo IM will be lifted or not. Obama and his team are not allowed to do instant messaging. Flicker and YouTube are still on the suspect list. However, Twitter is allowed in House premises.

The White House has also exempted YouTube from strict rules relating to the use of cookies on federal agency Web sites.

In other news Sun Chairman Scott McNealy has reportedly been asked by President Obama to present a paper outlining the benefits that open source software would provide to the government.

McNealy, though not having finished the paper yet, was quick to outline some basic advantages in a BBC interview which included its cost-effectiveness and productiveness, as well as security, software and reliability.

Neowin reporter Mitchell LeBlanc contributed to this report

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White House workers complain of lack of access to outside services and old, boring software.


A Washington Post story this morning caught my attention: "Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages." It's not a good sign, but not for the reasons the story implies.

Some, perhaps most of the article, details problems that probably happen in every White House transition. Suddenly there are large numbers of new employees and it just takes time to get them their stuff, like phone numbers and network accounts. This part is dog bites man. Incoming Bush staff in 2001 even claimed petty sabotage, that outgoing Clinton staff had pulled the "W" keys from the keyboards.

I have to think that these problems are inevitable in White House transitions: You can't just bulk-import a list of names into the directory at a place like this. The right way to do it would be to have the staff start prior to Jan. 20 so that they are checked out and set up, but that seems to be a political impossibility because, in this case, it would have Obama staffers working in the Bush White House.

The real eye-opening part of the Post article is where they make complaints like this: "No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking."

Oh dear! You mean they can't just run any old Internet application on their White House computers? They can't use whatever e-mail system they want? Welcome to the secure enterprise, kids.

The White House new-media team was especially hobbled. "The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos." There are no specifics about the software, and I'm wondering if the "six-year-old versions of Microsoft software" reference is to Office 2003. But if it refers to actual video editing software then I'm not sure what it is. Other than Movie Maker, does Microsoft even make titling software?

One gets the sense that the Obama team has no sense of what security restrictions they will run into because of the considerations necessary at the White House and why they are there. You can't follow the security business over the last few years and not come away knowing that workstations have to be locked down, that access to public services needs to be restricted to those which have been specifically vetted and, perhaps, with which specific security arrangements have been made.

But the part that really bothers me is the whining about outside e-mail accounts. If I started a job like this and found out I might not have an e-mail address for a few days I would be pretty angry and reach out for some solution. But didn't we just go through a series of e-mail scandals in the Bush White House part of which was related to the use of outside e-mail systems? Officials were called to testify before Congress and threatened with criminal penalties over that. And Alaska Governor Sarah Palin came under much criticism for using a Yahoo e-mail account for official business. An ABC News story said at the time: 'By using non-governmental e-mail systems, "Your information is out there available, beyond the official mechanisms there to protect it," said Amit Yoran, the nation's first cybersecurity chief.'

The Post article makes a condescending reference to these restrictions being in place "...partly by tradition but also for security reasons and to ensure that all official work is preserved under the Presidential Records Act." Shortly thereafter it says that officials in the Press Office set up Gmail accounts with the permission of the White House counsel. Oh well, no biggie, I guess.

In some time, maybe as much as a month, the staff will be all set up and know what they have to do in order to get their work done. But if they're as impatient as this article indicates, I'm concerned. Getting your work done is an obviously admirable goal, but it can't be used to override security procedures. If that means no Facebook group for "White House Staff" then too bad.

Source

I still like the analysis, regardless of the validity of the article.

Sure, reaching out to the public is great (like the improved White House site), but there's a reason why the White House's technology is like this way: Security! Duh. I think that matters more than all this other crud.

Gmail? Sure, let's let Google have access to what's going on in the White House. They already have millions of other users' info. documented on their servers.

Yahoo! IM? Wow, it's absolutely the worst.

Why is it YouTube only? There's other video sites out there, and this shows clear favoritism to a particular site, and in a way, kind of endorses YouTube as the only video sharing site to go to.

How can they be so ignorant to how Windows works? Even if it's an old version, you'd hope that they'd have had some experience working with it. I mean it's not like it's impossible to use media/web programs on Windows.

Totally misleading article (both the original Washington Post article and this one). This was not a problem of "Tech Dark Ages", it was a problem of a totally inexperienced staff not realizing that in the real world security comes before ease of use. The White House doesn't have a lack of IM and Facebook because it's in the "Dark Ages", it's a matter of security using government equipment for work rather than surfing the web, not to mention that all communications in the white house is required by law to be logged. And "6-year-old Microsoft software" could easily mean Windows XP, which is still pretty much standard in any office environment. I'm glad to hear our government hasn't wasted a bunch of money on unnecessary computer upgrades.

I am really getting the impression that Obama thinks he knows all about IT and is going to be extremely reckless. I am amazed that they would communicate with a public email service (Gmail) even if it was just for one email. SSL only protects the email during transit. Google has complete control over the email once it is in their hands.

Obama is going to tax us to death so he can buy the latest and greatest machines for each room in the whitehouse so he can conveniently update his homies on Facebook. Yippee.

The White House should be cut off from the Internet, etc. That is why they use secure phones and video conferencing.

Looks like the Obama folks are not up to speed on secure technologies, versus using YouTube and FireFox.

I don't know why everyone thinks that the White House has technology that doesn't exist anywhere else, they are not super humans, they have the same mind and thinking than companies that sell you equal or better crap for profit. It's just the white house with people like us that focus on different aspects. Stop dreaming, come back to reality and get your thoughts straight.

lol.

soon people will think Air Force One isn't up to date and needs an escape pod like in the movie 'Escape from New York' with a 'Snake Plissken One' painted on the side.

using pen,paper and the good ole brain cell is asking the younger generation too much. Break their index finger and they go into a coma.

I guess with that logic we should still be using quill pens and writing by candlelight.
and my Dad used to have to walk to school 2 miles both ways...in a snowstorm....

well people of the world do expect 'daddy' to have the lastest,greatess and up to date-ess (borrowed that from Bush)...lol

Daddy-O

I like all the talk about what he will be allowed to do. Someone likes to feel important. If you were the leader of the free world, I kind of guess you do whatever you damn well want. Period. If he wants to use his old Blackberry there is no one on earth with the authority to stop him.

Yes there is, it is called The Constitution. You know, that little document that spells out presidential powers and such. I find it funny that everyone seems to think that the President can do everything. The President can't even write nor introduce a bill.

using pen,paper and the good ole brain cell is asking the younger generation too much. Break their index finger and they go into a coma.

wow... with all the stuff that has to be done to secure a gov network you cant just connect it to the internet and say there we go!... plus the white house has some VERY advanced technology in it... everything from encrypted communication links up to video conferencing all over the world... they are trying to make it sound like its all junk, when really its way more advanced then they think it is... Encrypted VoIP phones... sat links... encrypted network... fully archived communications systems... its the kind of stuff some companies would kill to have themselves

Obama and his staffers are just a bunch of socialist pigs. America will learn soon enough that socialized healthcare and redistribution of wealth are bad policies for everyone as it enslaves them to the government. Hmm, thats sounds an awful lot like we're going backwards. Unlike what Obama and the gestapo media would have you believe, he is the antitheses of President Lincoln. After all, His Idol is Che Guevara who just happened to be a marxist. Read your history people and stop being a bunch of brainwashed morons. Before too long he will have all of us calling him Comrade Obama. Resist the change!

rafter109 said,
Obama and his staffers are just a bunch of socialist pigs. America will learn soon enough that socialized healthcare and redistribution of wealth are bad policies for everyone as it enslaves them to the government. Hmm, thats sounds an awful lot like we're going backwards. Unlike what Obama and the gestapo media would have you believe, he is the antitheses of President Lincoln. After all, His Idol is Che Guevara who just happened to be a marxist. Read your history people and stop being a bunch of brainwashed morons. Before too long he will have all of us calling him Comrade Obama. Resist the change!

A great deal can be said for Socialism and Marxism . . . provided you understand what they are. They're more than just terms thrown around in order to use as pejoratives when attacking someone. And if you really want to learn about these ideologies, then listening to rehashed cold-war analyses of these terms, seen through Western pop-culture and a nationalist American lens is not the way to go about it.

rafter109 said,
Obama and his staffers are just a bunch of socialist pigs. America will learn soon enough that socialized healthcare and redistribution of wealth are bad policies for everyone as it enslaves them to the government. Hmm, thats sounds an awful lot like we're going backwards. Unlike what Obama and the gestapo media would have you believe, he is the antitheses of President Lincoln. After all, His Idol is Che Guevara who just happened to be a marxist. Read your history people and stop being a bunch of brainwashed morons. Before too long he will have all of us calling him Comrade Obama. Resist the change!

Resist hallucinogenic drugs!!!

This is about as bad as the crazy 911 conspiracies. First, he was an evil Muslim that was going bring Sharia law to America. Realizing an error in the construct, I think a number of individuals than took it upon themselves to rewrite him as a dangerous Marxist. Neither lie has really been very successful and only makes the propagators of such information look like fools in the end.

Lincoln is overrated. The crimes against the Constitution he committed in office have been shrugged off and ignored thanks to the end of slavery, as if that one achievement justified all the totalitarian crap the man did.

/not a southerner
//gets a kick out of dirty pennies

Are you kidding me? You have to seriously stupid to believe this article. Did the Obama staffers think they were on Comcast at the Capitol.? It is a secure network and is "business only". They have to archive ALL their correspondence by law. Obama is now the president of a superpower, not a social network. Bush's cabinet does not create the IT environment and neither will Obama's. Wake up morons!

no instant messaging, no outside access to e-mail accounts and no social networking

Sounds like good security practice to me.

Are you kidding me? Plenty of private businesses and government agencies block personal email access, IM, and social networking sites and now the media is using this to continue beating a dead horse. What, new WH staffers want to dick around and talk to their buddies all day.

What it sounds like to me is some bitchy college student volunteer who never had a real job in their life complained that they couldn't dick around with their macs on the interwebs. The media hangs onto it and spun it around to sound like the previous administration didn't use technology at all.

White House IT is handled by the White House Communications Agency and they fall under the Defense Information Systems Agency. Not Bush or any President before him set White House IT policy. I know a couple people who worked for the WHCA and have told me that its well staffed and well funded. In fact, if you're in the military and want to work there, you have to go through an interview process. You don't just get assigned there, you earn the position based on your knowledge and background.

That, sir, is an ignorant comment. Are you really suggesting that the White House doesn't need access to one of the largest media sources of the modern era? That's like saying they shouldn't have newspapers, television or even the internet itself. It is important for any modern government to keep apprised of the media and this isn't about staffers wasting their time when they should be working.

Please think before you post in future.

And newspapers and television are synonymous with celebrity gossip, cartoons, reality shows and editorials. Again, it's ignorant to dismiss an entire form of media because of some aspects, not matter how prevalent.

theyarecomingforyou said,
And newspapers and television are synonymous with celebrity gossip, cartoons, reality shows and editorials. Again, it's ignorant to dismiss an entire form of media because of some aspects, not matter how prevalent.

You actually think that Youtube is a valuable source of news?

ahhell said,
You actually think that Youtube is a valuable source of news?

Not as a single entity. But many news sources that I read often link to videos provided on youtube. Not everyone is capable of hosting their own videos online. For many news organisations and individuals, youtube is a means of being able to get the message heard. Don't dismiss it so easily.

However, obviously 90% of the crap on youtube is exactly that, crap.

ahhell said,
You actually think that Youtube is a valuable source of news?

I never said news, I said media. But yes, it is important. Obviously it shouldn't be taken on its own, much like Fox News shouldn't, but it is irresponsible to ignore or dismiss it. It's like Twitter - I have absolutely no interest in it but governments should be aware of it, particularly when it has been used to report breaking news more accurately than the major networks.

Just like it's easy to dismiss Fox News for being conservative propaganda? Of course you can't do that. You have to set aside your personal like or dislike for the site and look at it objectively. As long as you understand the bias and the credibility of the source then you can assess it.

Please, if people aren't going to discuss this maturely can they please not comment.

theyarecomingforyou said,
That, sir, is an ignorant comment. Are you really suggesting that the White House doesn't need access to one of the largest media sources of the modern era? That's like saying they shouldn't have newspapers, television or even the internet itself. It is important for any modern government to keep apprised of the media and this isn't about staffers wasting their time when they should be working.

Please think before you post in future.


This is hilarious, 99% of youtube has zero value and it is exactly about wasting time instead of working. There is nothing ignorant about dismissing youtube, but there is something absolutely hilarious about you trying to spin it as a relevant media source. I suspect you think Wikipedia is relevant as well.

...no social networking

Boo frickin hoo. Do your job, not dick about with Facebook et al.

As to the robots.txt, some entries make sense. Not that there should be a publicly accessible cgi-bin folder anyway, but you don't need search engines to index search pages, especially results pages unless you don't have your own search mechanism in place. After all, if you use Google to search for something you don't want links to a results page on the results page.

More shocking that the article's real author (not the poster) didn't get the facts from more than one source. There should have been many red flags that this is bogus info (except for the complaining).

Im alright with them updating but some of the things I see in this report sounds a bit sily. Facebook, Yahoo IM, Google IM, FLickr, Twitter. Using Youtube for his weekly addres is fine but they dont really need all that other stuff. Facebook.... ha "Look im friends with Obama", I bet people will really think Obama would spend time sending "Hi, how are you doing" on their facebook postboard. Might as well add Myspace while they are at it.

I believe this is probably a necessary step, ultimately a preventive measure. Say President Obama and his daughter write emails back and forth and somewhere along the line there is mention of where and when his daughter will be going to a specific store, and that she hates the security detail. Someone hacks Google servers and obtains this information, sells it, and it quickly turns into a hostage situation and then we have a media frenzy. This is exactly why these precautions are taken, to avoid such situations that could occur. With such a high-profile target, someone in the global eye, the likelihood of the above situation actually happening is not that far fetched.

If these services (facebook, gmail, et cetera...) can be used cautiously, then I'm all for it. It's against my core set of values and beliefs that restrictions be imposed upon social networking, instant messaging and email. But at the same time, I hope nothing bad comes from it all. Maybe the White House should look into their own closed social networking and instant messaging.

There should be no internet connected PCs at the Whitehouse. That is the ONLY way to prevent anything from being compromised. The US Military operates their own global network via Satellite links, they should always keep that network isolated from any outside networks.

I don't want to sound like a broken record but what's the source for this information? Despite the excessive number of links I couldn't find anything about the disconnected phone lines or lack of social networking.

theyarecomingforyou said,
I don't want to sound like a broken record but what's the source for this information? Despite the excessive number of links I couldn't find anything about the disconnected phone lines or lack of social networking.

Even though "Neowin reporter Mitchell LeBlanc contributed to this report", I am finding it hard to believe that Neowin has an inside man from the Whitehouse. This rubbish journalism from Neowin is really getting up my nerves, and please don't try to hide behind "Unprofessional Journalism looks better" because that is just non-sense.

Quick Reply said,
Even though "Neowin reporter Mitchell LeBlanc contributed to this report", I am finding it hard to believe that Neowin has an inside man from the Whitehouse. This rubbish journalism from Neowin is really getting up my nerves, and please don't try to hide behind "Unprofessional Journalism looks better" because that is just non-sense.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...2104249_pf.html

Are you done now?

theyarecomingforyou said,
I didn't doubt the news, that wasn't my point, but the source isn't listed anywhere in the article, despite a copious number of links. It's plagiarism.

Now now, it is not plagiarism.... its the new advert strategy.

Exactly. It takes away advertising revenue from the source site, as no-one can click through and other sites will link to here thinking this is the original source. It is a VERY serious issue. It's absolutely unacceptable.

theyarecomingforyou said,
I didn't doubt the news, that wasn't my point, but the source isn't listed anywhere in the article, despite a copious number of links. It's plagiarism.

Yeah it is, and it's making this site complete garbage.

Put the source link at the bottom back

As I've said in another thread, the links are inline with the text, get over it theyarecomingforyou. Ever other reputable news site does this. We are just re-aligning the way we post news and doing the same. If you've still got an issue with it PM me.

Actually, if you read my posts I actually said I couldn't find the link to the source information. I am not criticising the in-line links - I'm talking about missing sources. I couldn't find any link relating to the phone lines and social networking. I opened every link and did a text search but nothing; I even took the time to read them - nothing. It was only because of another poster that I found out the source was the Washington Post. Articles omitting the source is not something I need to "get over"; that is something Neowin needs to address. In fact it was only because of my criticism in the other topic that the source was actually added.

Also, you say other sites do it (which is NOT an excuse) but none are rewording articles and burying the links - Slashdot provides a quoted segment with a clearly embedded link in the opening sentence; Digg links straight to the site from the title and has a brief summary; Bluesnews links to the source in the opening sentence and provides a brief summary. It is only Neowin that is omitting sources and rewording entire articles. Other sites provide a link in the opening sentence and a brief summary.

I respectfully ask you to not be so flippant and confrontational and to please address my actual concerns. This would all be avoided if the primary source was located in the opening sentence like most other sites.

theyarecomingforyou said,
I'm glad that other people agree. It's destroying the credibility of the site. I know Neowin prides itself on being "unprofessional" but this oversteps that mark.

Not only is it destroying Neowin's credibility, but it also is going to start raising a red flag from the news sources that actually put some real blood-and-sweat in bringing this news. I'd hate to see Neowin shutdown because they can't seem to comprehend the importance of giving credit where credit is due.

Yeah sorry someone missed the source link in the opening part. I wouldn't worry about us getting shut down nor our credibility due to one article.

Shadrack said,
Not only is it destroying Neowin's credibility, but it also is going to start raising a red flag from the news sources that actually put some real blood-and-sweat in bringing this news. I'd hate to see Neowin shutdown because they can't seem to comprehend the importance of giving credit where credit is due.

Hi,

It was a mistake from my side and it was my responsibility to add news sources. I am sorry for not adding the news source. Its been added now.

That robots.txt bit isn't exactly what's listed in the article. It is also good to know that Obama has been interested in open source software.

Yeah, hardly surprising when you think Dubya has been the boss for the better part of a decade. He doesn't strike me as the type of guy who'd know what things like open source, VoIP, DNS, IP, etc mean.

From the sounds of it though, it looks like Obama is getting to grips with it all and should have the White House up to snuff in a very short space of time. Man would I love a job sorting all of that out, I doubt they'd let a Brit do it though :-)

Why is that crazy? What type of tasks do you think they perform in the White House that they need the latest technology? They don't spend majority of their time playing Half Life.

Technology can simply work as an accelerator of progress, and is not likely to be the sole source of it. Having the most advanced technologies does not guarantee success; just think about Vietnam.

DJDY said,
Why is that crazy? What type of tasks do you think they perform in the White House that they need the latest technology? They don't spend majority of their time playing Half Life.

Technology can simply work as an accelerator of progress, and is not likely to be the sole source of it. Having the most advanced technologies does not guarantee success; just think about Vietnam.
OH NOES!!! WHERE IS MY SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE, FACEBOOK?? :(:(

why does the government need social networking and instant messaging? THEY DONT. Look at any real company. Do they want their employees wasting their time on MSN? No! Is facebook and youtube blocked? yes!

Boo hoo, they didn't have macbook pros... they had old versions of windows... i wonder if it was XP >.<

Seriously though, this is a pretty lame article and/or topic

Who said it was MSN?? Have you ever heard of Office Communicator?? Every company I've worked for has had an internal instant messaging program.

It's not lame at all.

Not to mention that a government is not a business, especially a government that is emphasizing transparency, and relied on keeping up with the public during the campaign. Sure, a campaign is different, but people got involved. I don't think the Obama administration wants to lose the connection it had with the American people.

darkpuma said,
why does the government need social networking and instant messaging? THEY DONT. Look at any real company. Do they want their employees wasting their time on MSN? No! Is facebook and youtube blocked? yes!

Boo hoo, they didn't have macbook pros... they had old versions of windows... i wonder if it was XP >.<

Seriously though, this is a pretty lame article and/or topic

You must be living in the dark ages.

IM is used in most corporations and office environments. All of my past IT/Telco positions, including my current role rely on email, IM and VoIP.

kizzaaa said,


You must be living in the dark ages.

IM is used in most corporations and office environments. All of my past IT/Telco positions, including my current role rely on email, IM and VoIP.

we have email and voip, but no instant messaging... its not effective. Pick up the phone and CALL the person. If its less urgent email them.
PS I work at bombardier aerospace at the moment, so its not like im speaking without a fair amount of experienece