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White House officials discuss technology challenges

The preservation of information distributed on commercial content-sharing sites, such as blip.tv or the popular miniblog Twitter, is just one of the hurdles federal Web managers must confront in the era of online government, members of the White House's new media team said on Tuesday.

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To comply with records management policies, some agencies are not distributing any content on social media applications unless it also is on their Web sites, said Bev Godwin, director of online resources and interagency development at the White House, during a discussion of technology challenges at the annual Web content managers' conference in Washington. But such content -- for example Twitter entries -- often is difficult to reproduce verbatim in a format that doesn't look out of place on government Web sites.

White House officials also stressed that Web writers and editors should be proactive.

"I'm not here to tell you what to do," said Macon Phillips, director of new media at the White House. "Keep doing it. Don't wait."

Managers have been hesitant to roll out upgrades because of the change in administrations, according to ForeSee Results, a market research firm that sponsored the latest quarterly University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index for e-government. The report was issued on Tuesday.

Other limitations to online interactivity have nothing to do with the presidential transition.

Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, said one of the big trials he is facing is compliance with federal statutes such as the 1974 Privacy Act.

"I was born in 1974," Kundra joked. But he noted managers still must respect the law, which restricts the use of records containing personal identifiers such as a name and Social Security number.

"We have to keep in mind that personal information is protected," he said. "Those regulations are there for a reason. And those statutes are there for a reason. ... You can't just come up with a new sexy technology and say here it is, and we want to move forward with it."

But managers in the audience told Kundra such precautions can strain relationships with chief information officers, who sometimes seem more concerned with information protection than innovation.

Kundra acknowledged that Web managers and CIOs "seem to operate in two different planes," but noted "there is a balance between security and open government."

White House officials added that new administration employees, who are accustomed to working with cutting-edge, high quality imagery, are taken aback when told by the National Archives and Records Administration they have to resave their content in antiquated formats for safekeeping.

Godwin, director of the federal homepage USA.gov at the General Services Administration, is someone "I brought in as a detail to help us understand how government works," Phillips said. "There's a lot of acronyms."

Kundra also addressed the difficulty in developing standards for data.gov, a comprehensive warehouse of nonsensitive federal information that citizens can download and use for their own Web applications.

"With 24,000-plus Web sites it's very hard for the public to have a common experience moving from one agency to another," he said. "With data.gov, we're trying to make sure there are common guiding principles to ensure data is available in multiple formats to allow users to slice and dice information."

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