Megan Smith, the White House chief technology officer, faces a daunting challenge: moving the federal government into 2015, technology-wise.
It’s a task that’s easier said than done. According to the New York Times, which published a profile of Smith over the weekend, the Obama administration relies on a lot of outdated technology: Smith, a former Google executive whose division oversaw the creation of Google Glass, now uses a BlackBerry and a 2013 Dell laptop.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is partially run on floppy disks.
Despite using technology that would be considered outdated and clunky in Silicon Valley, Smith is optimistic: “We’re on it,” she told the Times, of trying to bring the federal government into the year 2015, technology-wise. “This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.”
If you buy a new laptop today, it probably won’t have a port for floppy disks. That’s because floppy disk technology is extinct. There are so many more efficient ways of storing files than on a plastic square — USBs, external hard drives, and cloud storage, for example.
It’s difficult to even purchase floppy disks today. If you do a cursory search on Amazon for floppy disks, you’ll see some results, but most of those disks for sale have since been discontinued by their manufacturer. Even floppydisk.com has rebranded itself to offer CDs in addition to floppy disks.
None of this is necessarily new news. The US government is known for its outdated technology. Last year, the US government came under fire during its nightmarish rollout of federal health insurance website healthcare.gov.
And in December 2013, the New York Times pointed out that the Federal Register, which acts as the daily newspaper of the federal government, still relied heavily on the use of floppy disks.
The Times explained that the secure email system used by the US government “is expensive, and some government agencies have not yet upgraded to it. As a result, some agencies still scan documents on to a computer and save them on floppy disks. The disks are then sent by courier to the register.”
The problem with the role of CTO is that even though she directly advises the president, Smith lacks a budget and authority over other federal agencies, according to Clay Johnson, the co-founder of the Department of Better Technology, which ran Obama’s online campaign in the 2008 election cycle. This makes it hard for Smith to be able to enact change — and consequently to get rid of outdated technology, like floppy disks.
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