Within days after the landslide election of Barack Obama as President-elect of the United States, who as you recall heavily used Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube to reach digital media users, the official transitional website was launched at change.gov. Have you visited the site, read the official blog, and shared your vision for America?
If you think like I do, perhaps you agree with Groundswell author Josh Bernoff's 3 tips how change.gov should be improved?
I recently attributed transition team co-chair Valerie Jarrett saying the vetting process between now and January 20 will be "transparent." I thought that would be a step in the right direction. I still hope transparency is possible in the government, but a curious investigation led me down a path to conclude transparency is the tip of the iceberg and change.gov is not what it seems.
This site is for the Office of the President-elect and Office of the Vice President-elect, as recognized by the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended (3 USC 102 note). The Presidential Transition Act specifically authorizes the Administrator of GSA to provide services and support to the Office of the President-elect beginning the day after the election until 30 days after the inauguration to support the orderly transfer of executive power after a general election. This site provides information to the public in support of this important public purpose.
GSA is an acronym for the General Services Administration.
Launched on November 5, 2008 (the day after Election Day), the site is a work in progress. For instance, a text link on that About page to the "GSA Transition Directory" has no physical link; in other words, the link goes nowhere. Apparently, the directory is the work of the GSA and the National Archives and Records Administration, via the Presidential Transition Act of 2000. You can visit it at directory.presidentialtransition.gov.
Here's the kicker: The Change.gov staff page shows the same information as this press release on C-SPAN. The difference is the dot-gov page fails to mention Change.gov is the home of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that accepts non-lobbyist donations at a special page on obamabidentransitionproject.org.
In other words, a nonprofit organization is requesting donations on a dot-org website while everything else is housed on a taxpayer-funded dot-gov website. What am I missing?
I'm willing to bet that Obama's Cabinet-to-be is not as social media-savvy as, say, me. That is, I'd be very surprised if any incoming Cabinet Secretary or another presidential appointment, per a New York Times story about a mammoth job questionnaire, is an (in)active Facebook user. As a presidential candidate, Obama used Facebook extensively; I blogged about it. I am sure that even if he never saw Facebook, his campaign team did. And I hope President Obama will continue to use the social network as a hook to increase civic engagement with the Millennial Generation and tech-savvy adults.
Which begs the question, how many prospective senior-level White House and Cabinet employees have used Facebook and/or are familiar with its privacy regulations? How many executives are aware the Transition Project is requesting copies of Facebook profiles? Why are Facebook third-party developers— folks who make the various widgets on nearly everyone's page, from zombie biting applications to poker games to little green patches— not allowed to view a user's name, but the transition team can?
Or will the Cabinet be comprised of people who do not know what Facebook is? Just wondering.
Declan McCullagh of CNET News recently investigated the questionnaire and was stunned the transition team wanted to know technical information, such as one's Facebook profile:
President-elect Obama wants to know far more about you than his predecessors did. That requirement would force applicants to disclose information about Facebook and MySpace pages, profiles posted on dating Web sites, and even what was posted on Web sites like CNET and YouTube that allow readers to append comments.
If that doesn't bother you, go ahead and fill out the application at change.gov/jobs/apply_app/— but the information is not stored at change.gov. Notice the bottom of the page where it says the application system is powered by Cluen technology? Click the link and you'll be redirected to the Cluen Corporation, an 23-year-old private firm that provides recruiting software solutions.
The basic idea behind the company's Searchlight technology is that a recruiting agency can collect data through online forms that are masked to be at the agency's website, and the data is stored on secure Cluen servers. A tactic used by a recruiting firm should be different for a presidential transition team, right? Surely job data would be stored on a government server somewhere. Think again.
Check out the Searchlight Candidate Login which provides the true "power" of the attribution line at the change.gov application page.
The questions on this online application don't ask about Facebook, unless one chooses to provide information. There are 12 sections collecting data, including: contact information, employment experience, education, experience working with various economic sectors (management, private sector, government, nonprofits, and academia), desired position, references, citizenship, and optional data on one's race, ethnicity, etc.
Why is this data stored on Cluen's servers? A recent question on LinkedIn asking about the comparison between online recruiting solutions by Cluen and Dillistone yields three responses in favor of Cluen and two against. Judge for yourself.
I called Cluen's founder, Andrew Shapiro, for a quote, but never heard back.
Obama cares about transparency. After all, he was an original sponsor of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.
Can he or one of his staff answer some questions?
First, I ask the president-elect to provide fuller disclosure to the American people about the nonprofit status of the transition team and the government server on which it's voice is hosted.
Second, I ask the president-elect to explain why social media tends to be a potential obstacle to prevent a qualified individual from a presidential appointment rather than embraced for the transparency it provides.
Third, I ask the president-elect to illustrate the relationship between the taxpayer-funded Change.gov, the nonprofit-funded transition team, and Cluen Corporation; and I ask he explain why prospective White House personnel records (potentially retrievable under Freedom of Information Act requests) are stored with a third-party contractor.
I'm sure it's all legit— so how about some answers?
The online organizing and social networking that engineered Barack Obama's rise to the White House wasn't just an expensive tool, it was a culture. A culture of people who are motivated, informed and demanding, and a culture that will turn on Obama once they suspect they've been used. Read more …
Jacob Perkins discusses the implications of an online presidency @ Change.gov, the Obama administration's official transition Web site. Read more …