A peculiar atmosphere takes hold within White House IT operations as a change in presidential administrations nears: The enthusiasm for undertaking new projects seems to wane.
Regardless of which party is in control, permanent White House IT staffers know from experience that an incoming administration will bring new IT priorities and technology preferences. Existing projects may get scrapped. That's probably why President Barack Obama and his team inherited desktop PCs with floppy drives when they arrived in 2009.
The regular cycle of change fosters IT inertia, says Alissa Johnson, deputy CIO in the Executive Office of the President, an appointee of the administration.
The White House IT department runs unclassified operations, such as WhiteHouse.gov, and manages the systems that support communication with the public. Its responsibilities also include device, desktop and mobile management. The White House Communications Agency, a military unit, handles classified communications.
Johnson can't change how the White House operates, but she can help change how the IT team thinks about its role. She says her approach has been to encourage staffers to be more invested in their projects.
"If they are championing these ideas, they are going to be better influencers for the next administration," Johnson says. She already credits the staff with progress on various fronts, including mobile and data center strategies. "This is a ‘top-down meets bottom-up' approach," she adds.
Johnson, who holds a doctorate in IT management, believes that each administration should be more technologically agile than its predecessor, and the way to achieve that is to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit within the staff.