Are the White House telephones rotary dial?

On the TV show “24,” Jack Bauer always seemed to have a cool way of communicating with the president and his superiors at the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit. The White House had the latest gadgets and everyone used them.


The White House isn’t that advanced, according to the president. Looks like another case of Hollywood not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

But can it be as bad as President Obama said April 13? At a fundraiser event in Chicago the president lamented over the state of the White House telephones. Here’s what The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in “An open-mic night for Obama”:

White House information technology isn’t what he expected, in the appraisal of the president, who said, “We are, like, 30 years behind.”

“The Oval Office, I always thought I was going to have really cool phones and stuff,” Obama said, according to Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press. “I’m like, c’mon guys, I’m the president of the United States. Where’s the fancy buttons and stuff, and the big screen comes up?”

Thirty years behind?

Working on that problem is Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer. In Politico’s “Kundra: Fed IT is ‘horrible’”, the federal government’s first CIO talks about what he’s doing to fix the problem. Here are a few passages and Kundra quotes from Politico.

On White House computer workstations:

When the Obama administration came into office, “We had giant boxes on our desks instead of the laptops and docking stations we have now.”

On using the technological tools one is comfortable with:

But even Kundra still can’t use his favorite devices and applications in his office.

“Why do I still have two cellphones?” he said, referring to his personal iPhone and his work-issued BlackBerry. “We need to bring consumer devices to the federal government. … This is something that’s going to take years. We’re not going to move the federal government overnight.”

On differing e-mail services across the federal government:

One of Kundra’s first priorities is revamping the government’s email system.

Instead of each agency having its own email scheme, Kundra has been working on creating a government wide, cloud-based email network. The administration expects to save $42 million from moving two agencies’ email systems to the cloud, and the move will eliminate 800 data centers over the next five years.

On the state of government IT services:

“Why is it that I have better technology at home than I do at work? To me, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Never thought my personal life would be technologically ahead of the White House with my tablet computer and smart phone linked to several cloud storage sites.

What would Jack do? He’d probably go to a big-box store and have the crisis resolved within 24 hours.


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