Tech & The District » Administration Tech the way we see it: insights and musings on technology PR, policy and the District, from H&K’s D.C. Tech Team. Thu, 04 Aug 2011 15:06:44 +0000 en hourly 1 Happy Holidays Tue, 28 Dec 2010 17:56:10 +0000 Ben Breit From all of us here at H&K DC, Happy Holidays to you and your family. And you can look forward to further insight from us in 2011. Cheers!

-The Tech & the District team

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2011 Congressional Outlook Fri, 19 Nov 2010 22:34:57 +0000 Ben Breit As expected, the mid-term election turned out to be a sweeping and historic victory for Congressional Republicans, as they snatched 6 Senate seats and at least 60 House seats (plus control) from Democratic hands. House Republicans, in eager anticipation of Nancy Pelosi officially passing the gavel to John Boehner, have wasted little time in drafting an aggressive agenda for the 112th Congress.

Naturally, most of the political discourse since November 2 has been enveloped by issues such as healthcare repeal and the national debt. On that note, we thought it appropriate to put on our public affairs hats and address question that tech insiders from D.C. to Silicon Valley are asking: In this heated political environment, does the tech industry have any chance at all to gain traction on its core issues before the divided Congress?

Handicapping the Republicans’ play appears to be easy at first glance. Following Republican criticism that President Obama neglected the economy in lieu of an insular focus on healthcare reform, future Speaker John Boehner’s agenda is likely stock full at this time.  Indeed, nowhere in Republicans’ much publicized Pledge to America does the word “technology” even appear. Seeing many of its top allies getting relegated to ranking status (or in Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher’s case, relegated out of office) could not have been a pleasant sight for Silicon Valley.

Much of the agenda will ride on who takes over as Chair of the important House Energy and Commerce Committee, which regulates many technology issues. As the current ranking member, Joe Barton would appear to have the leg up. However, the broad nature of a committee that regulates both technology and the environment, coupled with Barton’s defense of BP CEO Tony Hayword, might prove a dealbreaker for Republican leadership. The Texas Republican is facing a spirited challenge from Michigan’s Fred Upton. Both Rep. Barton and Rep. Upton have declared net neutrality dead on arrival under their chairmanships. Still, there is a lot of money on both sides of the issue, so it is likely to at least get raised in 2011.

Alternatively, the issue of patent reform is handled by the Judiciary Committees. Here, the conflict is not between Democrats and Republicans as much as it is between the House and Senate. Senate Judiciary Members reached a deal earlier this year that was criticized by many in the technology sector. House Judiciary Members agreed and refused to participate in negotiations until the Senate came back with a bill that was more tech-friendly. The issue has been stalled ever since.

Since patent reform lacks a partisan divide, is there hope for it in 2011? Possibly. However, anyone who thinks any technology issue – whether it patent reform, net neutrality, privacy or any others – has a realistic chance of making the 2011 Congressional agenda is probably being overly optimistic.

But is it fair to exclude this sector from discussions on the economy and jobs? A strong argument could be made for relying more than ever on technology companies during these trying times. According to a report from the Tech America Foundation, the tech industry has begun its climb out of the recession, having added 32,200 jobs from January-June 2010.

“The technology industry now appears to be slowly turning the corner with the rest of the economy,” said Phil Bond, the Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “We have weathered the storm better than most. From its position embedded in every other industry, technology remains the best hope for driving robust recovery across the economy.”

Both Republicans and Democrats have had a focus on creating jobs – and understandably so. Perhaps Congressional leadership would do well to realize that in these trying times, it might be worth it to address the concerns of one of the few industries that has actually made job creation a reality rather than a theory.

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Privacy and the Terminator Wed, 17 Mar 2010 21:58:42 +0000 duncanburns

Great piece today by Steve Lohr in the NY Times (A1, above the fold) on How Privacy Vanishes online. Though the concept of digital litter and eroding privacy expectations have been around for a while, and are perhaps fodder for some of our more technology-phobic friends, family and colleagues, the story points to what I think is likely to be a big new battleground in DC. At what point should the government step in online and protect us from ourselves?

They already do to some extent with other forms of content/communication like films and games with rating systems and phone lines with do not call registries, but in some ways these are incoming rather than outgoing communications where we are voluntarily (phishing aside) for the most part divulging what used to be considered personal and private.

Where should the FTC, Congress or states draw the line on what’s acceptable – balancing individual freedom to share with protecting those individuals in spite of themselves? Having been a victim of banking fraud, I personally don’t want anyone guessing my social security number, but perhaps I’m already at risk given what I’ve put out there.

It’s going to be interesting to see how new tech dynamos work with government to find that balance. I’m sure it’ll be a full and frank discussion to borrow some diplomatic speak, but perhaps the discussion in itself will help educate a broader swath of people about the risks of some of what they’re putting online.

For companies in this space, start communicating your point of view now if you aren’t already, and talk about the options you’re giving your customers, and the ways you’re protecting them. Given the Whac-A-Mole style of politics at time, I’m not sure how much longer online companies are going to be able to get away with an approach of “ask for forgiveness not permission” when it comes to privacy. Though Google and Facebook are two prominent examples of firms dealing with these issues, they won’t be the last and at least they’ve built up enough trust, brand recognition and goodwill to make adjustments without too much damage. Can we say that about most companies grappling with these issues?

Perhaps we all just need to go off the grid like John Connor…? 

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

Is this what we can expect if we share too much online?

]]> 1 Politicians on Twitter Mon, 08 Jun 2009 16:47:36 +0000 duncanburns Interesting piece from The Fix warning politicians away from Twitter. In terms of risk management, he makes some strong points, but I think that politicians, especially those who maybe have tough races or can’t raise money so easily will continue to use Twitter to drive interest in them. As night follows day, that means there will continue to be goofs. But maybe it’s also that a lot of politicians have younger, SM-savvy staffers who think/know this is an important channel for their boss to be on but either start their boss running before walking, or don’t have in place some of the simple processes one needs to avoid foot-in-mouth disease. Just a thought. Over time it’ll become less of an issue as politicians, and voters, become more comfortable with the technology and its error-count.

Personally, I think there’s always going to be an element of there but for the grace of…

What do you think?

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First Hand Account of Tech in the Obama Age: From the Campaign Trail to the White House Fri, 13 Mar 2009 20:35:42 +0000 Vanessa Truskey

A screenshot of the new White House web site

A screenshot of the new White House web site

Tech & The District is pleased to present its first contributing blogger, Liz Purchia!  Liz, a Public Affairs team member at Hill & Knowlton in D.C., left to join the Obama campaign in the summer of 2008.  She offers her thoughts on technology during the campaign and what it will bring to The District.  Enjoy!  -Vanessa

First Hand Account of Tech in the Obama Age: From the Campaign Trail to the White House

As a campaign staffer on the ground in Iowa during the general election, I saw firsthand the strong role grassroots organizing plays in communities across America, particularly in rural areas.  I was in charge of Muscatine County and when I needed to meet with my supporters and volunteers, who often lived 30 miles away from each other, I relied on the online social network the Obama digital teams built. outweighed John McCain’s site by leaps and bounds.  The Web site’s features allowed viewers to personalize their own site on (similar to Facebook), to join online groups with people who shared their same interests.  Groups like Sportsmen for Obama or Women for Obama grew to the thousands.  Without leaving home, supporters could post events in their community, call voters, produce canvassing lists.  I even had volunteers in Massachusetts using the website to call voters in Iowa, updating them on voting laws and encouraging them to vote.

The digital team headquartered in Chicago was supported by in-state digital teams that worked with field organizers to help complement their work regionally.  Based on our feedback and ideas, the site would transform to improve accessibility and ability to reach out to constituents.

No political campaign has seen anything like what President Obama did.  As the saying goes “imitation is the best form of flattery.”  His Web site is a model for others to use.  The campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, who ran for prime minister of Israel, is eerily similar to Obama’s.  I would even go so far as to say took tips from Obama.

From the first day after the election, a new White House Web site was up and running and completely revamped.  It’s as user-friendly as the campaign site.  There were full digital staffs for the Transition and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which was only a positive sign for what’s to come.

As a member of the Public Affairs team in Washington, D.C., I often monitored the Web sites of Members of Congress and the different departments.  Looking back now, others have taken a cue from the Obama handbook and are improving their sites. and are just the beginning of the tech advances in government.  Technology will allow the Obama administration to be the most open and accessible administration in history.

Grassroots organizing will always be a central component to political campaigns, but the ability to use technology and social networking tookfield operations to a whole different level, which will only continue to be refined and improved.

If the administration’s use of technology is done anything like the campaign, I have HOPE our country will turn itself around.

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Open House Not Just White Noise Part 2 Wed, 18 Feb 2009 22:32:40 +0000 Saskia Stegeman Following up on my blog posting last week, it seems like more commentators are starting to raise questions about the Obama’s administration commitment to openness and the ways they are going about it.

In the FT’s Tech Blog today, Richard Waters questioned the White House’s handling of the public discussion around the stimulus package run on the White House’s web site, pointing to the complicated long-winded procedure for commenting and noting that it had the hallmarks of a one-way conversation because there was no way to see anybody else’s comments and more importantly there were no indications about how the comments got read, processed and ultimately what will get done with them.

In the New York Times Bits Blog on Tuesday, Saul Hansell, raised similar concerns about the Obama campaign engaging in a one-way conversation, focusing on the web site which went live earlier this week and was created to monitor spending on the stimulus package, proclaiming itself to be “…the main vehicle to provide each and every citizen with the ability to monitor the progress of the recovery.”

As Hansell notes, creating a meaningful track and response system is extremely complicated.  New media is generating interesting new opportunities for public engagement in politics but managing those conversations, filtering them and acting on them so that they become meaningful is challenging.  In many ways this is still a developing terrain since the explosive growth in social networking and other web 2.0 tools is a recent phenomenon.

The Obama administration has the potential to be pioneers in this area but if they really want to break new ground they have to innovate and develop tools that promote real dialogue and openness. If they fail to do so, their efforts in this area will lose credibility and will mainly be seen as propaganda tools.

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Open House Not Just White Noise Fri, 13 Feb 2009 14:58:24 +0000 Saskia Stegeman Earlier this week, I had my first browse through the White House Web site and thought it was a good signal of how the new Obama administration is likely to change the way the White House communicates to the American public.


The active integration of new media tools is not surprising given how the Obama campaign harnessed communications technology and social media  from the start , although adapting to White House infrastructure has posed some challenges – as Obama spokesman Bill Burton told the Washington Post, it was “….kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari.”


In addition to regular background information, press releases, statements and agenda items the site features a blog which is frequently updated and links to Obama’s weekly video address.  Most interestingly perhaps, the Web site lists the White House agenda on key policy issues such as economics, healthcare and technology. This promotes transparency and holds the administration accountable to what they set out to do and in some cases contains some very tangible metrics, particularly in the area of energy and the environment.


A key objective on President Obama’s technology agenda is to “… ensure the full and free exchange of information through an open Internet and use technology to create a more transparent and connected democracy”  and the administration seems to be taking active steps in that direction.


But a comment made by a friend who is a foreign correspondent here during a recent dinner party also got me thinking about a potential flip-side to this development. He said that he had found the Obama campaign and, to date, the Obama administration, less accommodating towards the press than the Bush administration or other campaigns, and attributed it to the fact that they weren’t as reliant on journalists to reach key target audiences. 


The growth of online communication tools is having a dramatic impact on the media landscape as all of us working in the field can see. This can lead to new and exciting opportunities for those of us working in PR, as Bill McIntyre of Grassroots Enterprise noted in a recent article that was published in PR Week.  However, in a democratic society, the press plays an important role in maintaining balance between state, business and societal interest – in part by asking tough questions and filtering information. Care must be taken to safeguard that role.


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No IM’ing Friends from The White House Fri, 23 Jan 2009 20:26:00 +0000 Vanessa Truskey Those of us who can’t imagine what it was like to do business before the invention of the cell phone or BlackBerry wouldn’t want to be working at the White House this week.   The Washington Post reported yesterday that when President Obama’s new staff showed up for work, they found the place in technology shambles.  No Facebook (gasp) or IM.  This just won’t do for the folks who defined social networking in political campaigns.  A few days after delighting that he’ll get to keep his BlackBerry, his staff finds itself using Gmail accounts to communicate, instead of that oh-so-coveted “” extension.  I’ve got to imagine security firms nationwide are taking notice: there is a group of young, tech-savvy staffers in the White House now, and an even more fervent American public anxious to read about President Obama’s every move via Twitter, who need secure ways to communicate which aren’t hack-able or phish-able.  Get to work security firms.  Yes you can.

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Finally a President with a Blackberry! Or shall we say Barackberry! Thu, 22 Jan 2009 21:18:00 +0000 Sandra Rodriguez As one of the almost 2 million people at the National Mall in D.C. Tuesday witnessing our 44th President’s swearing in ceremony, I thought I would share with you my experience. 


Living in Arlington, which is 10-15 minutes from D.C., I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to trek down to D.C. like many did.  The streets of D.C. were blocked off to pedestrians only and it was amazing to see the amount of people on the streets. Here is a photo of my younger sister and me, right by our offices on 14th & G St N.W. The second photo is of H St. and 15th Street NW.  These are streets I walk on every day, and it was incredible the amount of people covering them sidewalk to sidewalk.





After finally arriving at a spot at the base of the Washington Monument, we were in good sight of one of the many jumbotrons lining the National Mall.  The feeling amongst the crowds was incredibly positive, welcoming, emotional and just plain old happy!





Technology definitely came into play in assembling this historic event. There were approximately 20 jumbotrons lined up and down the National Mall with enough wires to probably run from D.C. to New York City. There were also millions with their cell phones recording the speech or watching it live through mobile TV services like MediaFLO.


While I did not have any reception on my cell phone, there were many people updating their Twitter feeds and uploading photos to their Facebook profiles live from the site.  I remember when the only way to catch moments like these was watching it live or a replay on TV. With mobile devices having multimedia capabilities, not only has the way we obtain media changed drastically but the amount has increased tremendously.  Additionally, now every day people are reporters:  in the middle of the crowds there were many people with digital cameras filming their own reports on the inauguration.  Over the next few days I’ll be checking out YouTube and CNN’s iReport for interesting tidbits to share.


Online video has also come into play for the inauguration; according to a article, about 7.7 million people watched the inauguration online, and nearly 27 million people watched streaming video on throughout the day.  This makes the inauguration ceremony the single most watched event in the history of the Web.


President Obama also mentioned technology in his speech. As a close follower of tech and Telco policy, it will be interesting to follow President Obama’s initiatives on making the government more technologically savvy.   Here is the excerpt from his speech I pulled from The White House Blog (which launched Tuesday) on the economy and technology:

 The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do.  All this we will do.



Disclosure: Hill & Knowlton represents Qualcomm


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Could Obama’s CTO Come from D.C.? Thu, 08 Jan 2009 19:00:00 +0000 Vanessa Truskey I think most people are surprised to hear that the Washington, D.C. area is actually one of the top regions for technology and innovation on the East Coast.  It might have something to do with that old perception that the Federal government runs somewhat behind the times in overall technology adoption.  While we could debate that topic until the cows come home, President-Elect Obama will hopefully have changed that perception by the end of his first term if things continue to go as he has planned.

That perception of stodgy Federal IT is one of the reasons why I found Kim Hart’s Washington Post feature  on D.C.’s chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra, so interesting.  (For our PR readers – what a great placement of a tech story on the front page, above the fold, Business section!) We’ve all heard that the President-Elect is planning to appoint the nation’s first CTO (though the responsibilities of the role are still uncertain), but in fact, Kundra has been named as a possible candidate.  It speaks to how far technology has come in D.C. (or how far its progressing) that a city not previously known for its tech-savvy could now stand to be the blueprint for technology adoption across the U.S.

What do you think about tech-savvy in the Federal government?  Is this likely to change any time soon?

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