Change.gov coming to the White House

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 19 2009 12:56 PM | Updated as of Jan 20 2009 02:27 AM

WASHINGTON - At exactly one minute after noon on Tuesday change.gov is coming to the White House.

That's the moment when whitehouse.gov -- the website for the past eight years of President George W. Bush -- changes hands and the savvy young New Media webmasters of freshly sworn-in President Barack Obama take over.

The new whitehouse.gov is expected to be the window for what is being touted as a bold experiment in interactive government based largely on lessons learned during the most successful Internet-driven election campaign in history.

"The White House is going to be a very exciting place," said Macon Phillips, director of New Media for Obama's transition team. "We're pushing the envelope here."

Since the November 4 election, the transition team has been "looking at government, how we can open it up, how we can engage citizens," he said.

The goal is to "continue the same spirit, participation and energy that was so essential to us during the campaign," Phillips said. "But more than that, to continue to expand it."

The Web will be the laboratory for what some are calling "open sourced democracy" and a glimpse of what the new whitehouse.gov may look like can be found at change.gov, the official transition website.

Among the features of change.gov under the heading of "Open Government" is a "Citizen's Briefing Book," in which users are invited to submit ideas by email and "rate or offer comments on the ideas of others."

"The best-rated ones will rise to the top, and after the inauguration, we'll print them out and gather them into a binder like the ones the president receives every day from experts and advisors," change.gov says.

Another feature, "Your Seat at the Table," calls for the proceedings of meetings between the transition team and outside organizations to be published on change.gov and allows members of the public to comment on them.

The Obama campaign has also conducted surveys of the 10 million supporters on its email list asking what he should do when he enters the White House and received more than half-a-million replies to one of them.

Speaking at a ceremony for winners of an online contest called "Ideas for Change in America" sponsored by social advocacy group Change.org and MySpace, Phillips acknowledged his New Media whiz kids could be in for some frustration.

"I've never worked in the federal government so there's a lot of unknowns out there," he said. "When you get frustrated people say it's like a bullet hitting water.

"On the campaign we did things at a million miles an hour -- we had this great website, we had all of these people," Phillips said. "It's going to be a learning experience for us."

According to some political analysts here, the biggest learning curve in the days to come is not for the Obama White House -- which already "gets it" -- but for the entrenched Washington bureaucracy and members of Congress.

"Obama is going to change the game with government the way he changed the game with politics," said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a Washington-based progressive think-tank.

"We should expect that experimentation is not just going to happen in the White House, but there will be competition inside the administration," he said at a panel discussion this week on the Internet and policy-making.

"Using these tools is going to become a critical way that Barack is going to evaluate the performance of his own team," Rosenberg said.

"My joke is that at the Monday cabinet meeting the (agency) directors will be comparing notes on how many YouTube views they got and how many comments on their blog post."

Congress is going to have to keep up or risk being taken apart by the New Media tool-kit of the Obama White House as it pushes its legislative agenda, Rosenberg said.

"The expectations of your constituents are going to change," he said. "You'll have no choice but to try to follow now that Obama's changing expectations of what government looks and feels like."

Joe Trippi, who served as campaign manager for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean in 2004 and is credited with first using the Web as a political tool, agreed.

"Congress could find itself between Barack and a hard place," Trippi said.

"The 25 members of Congress who are standing in the way of Obama's health care reform agenda, for instance, could suddenly find themselves between Barack and 25, 30 million Americans."

"They're going to get crushed."