In the 2008 election, President Obama’s advisers talked of their boss’s belief that it was time for an “iPod government.” Obama, a technology addict who tools around on his iPad before going to sleep and who fought the U.S. Secret Service bureaucracy for the right to carry a smartphone, would be the first president truly at home in the Digital Age. That put him, he thought, in a unique position to pull the federal government into the Digital Age, too. His administration wouldn’t just be competent. It would be modern. And it would restore America’s faith that the public sector could do big things well.
After Obama got to the White House he tried to deliver on the promise. He created positions for a chief information officer and a chief technology officer. He embarked on a massive effort to open up government data. He created an online dashboard to bring transparency to the government’s spending on IT. “If a project is over budget or behind schedule, this site tells you that, and by how much—and it provides the name, the e-mail, and the phone number of the person responsible,” Obama said in January 2010. “To date, the site has gotten 78 million hits.”