Technology and the State Department

This is taken directly from the transcript posted on the Department of State’s website (Town Hall Meeting held at the US State Department on February 4th, 2009). I thought a question on technolgy might interest some of you…if you are interested in reading the whole transcript, visit: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/02/116022.htm

MODERATOR: Okay, our next question comes from Ed Gagliardi, the Information Management Officer at U.S. Embassy Mexico City. He says that Facebook, MySpace, and other web 2.0 social networking technologies will significantly enhance the Department’s diplomacy efforts and business goals. For example, an astute consular officer in Hermosillo recently used Facebook to determine a visa applicant’s ineligibility based on information contained on the applicant’s Facebook page – (applause) – proving its value as an anti-fraud tool. (Laughter.)

Do you intend to work with the Department’s security stakeholders in order to navigate or mitigate the vulnerabilities of these technologies so that we may leverage their business benefits?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, absolutely. (Applause.) You know, during the transition you get these very informative papers and briefings, and I bet a lot of you worked on the papers, and I thank you for them. It did, you know, lose me a little more of my eyesight, but it was very, very helpful.

On the security issue and on outreach and public diplomacy, we must figure out a way consistent with security to use these new tools. There is no doubt in my mind that we have barely scratched the surface as to what we can use to communicate with people around the world, and in fact, to use them as tools, as this gentleman pointed out, to further our own work and to be smart about it.

There are legitimate concerns about security, but I believe we cannot just take that at face value and stop thinking about it. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to be smarter about using technology. So I think that’s a great example, the Facebook example. And you know, we might want to follow up on that example, checking out Facebook. For everybody who is applying for a visa, you just should know that the State Department is on the watch here for Facebook.

But I think that this is a tremendous opportunity, and I know that it is not, you know, as easily done as said. I’m well aware of that. You’ve followed the concern of the President about having to give up his Blackberry. It is maddening, and we know that, but we have to figure out how consistent with what is the security that we need – not everything we want or everything that some people want for us, but what we actually need – we can use these. And again, I welcome your ideas. I said in the beginning it could be anonymous as well as public. If people have ideas about how better to use these tools, please let me know because we’re going to work very hard – we have some people already looking at this – to see what more we can do to stay in touch with the world, which is our job, after all, to try to do that. And especially given the extraordinary language skills that this Department and USAID have, it just is a tremendous opportunity.

And I have to say, other countries, other organizations, both, you know, those that are acting in good faith and wishing us – and those that are wishing us ill, are much further advanced in an organized way in using a lot of these tools. And the United States Government has been pretty slow in coming to grips with technology. And so I hope – I mean, Colin Powell was telling me how when he arrived, you know, eight years ago, we had Wang computers. And I remember when Bill and I arrived in the White House, we had rotary phones. I mean, and I’ll tell you what, they didn’t even still have rotary phones in Arkansas. We were way, way ahead of that. (Laughter.)

So the United States Government is behind nearly everybody, except in certain discrete areas, in terms of technology. And we are, in my view, wasting time, wasting money, wasting opportunities, because we are not prepared to communicate effectively with what is out there in the business world and the private world. So I care passionately about this, especially since I’ve been deprived of my Blackberry, so – at least during the day, anyway – so, I am, again, soliciting your advice.

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Matthew Stephen Worner

Celia, I worked at the State Department when THEY DID NOT HAVE THE INTERNET. I repeat… THEY DID NOT HAVE THE INTERNET.

Imagine frustrating that was for people to have to share time at standalone desktops (only a few on each floor) and not have the Internet in their personal cubicle on their own desktop… LAN-based stuff… this would be a foreign concept to many in the Y (or Mil) generation… but I experienced this in 2001 (I’m an X gen myself)… most agencies would rather avoid risk than manage it… and that’s the bump we have to get over when we introduce new technologies in government.

Celia Mendive

Wow Matthew, that’s crazy…to think that a few decades ago we did not have the broad access that we do know. There is definitely a bump BUT I think we are heading in the right direction.

Don Jacobson

Celia – Thanks very much for posting this. I missed the broadcast of the town hall meeting and was glad to find the transcript so soon (thanks to you).

Matthew Stephen Worner

Celia, they did have the broadband access there, but they just did not want to implement it… you know? It’s easier to so say “no we aren’t implmenting it” (risk avoidance).. then to say “yes, we will implement it” (managing risk)… managing this risk of new technologies is much harder.