You’d think the White House would have up-to-date tech, wouldn’t you? I know I did. Frank Underwood was throwing around iPhones like used napkins way back in House of Cards season one. But the real West Wing was anything but ready for the age of Facebook and Twitter, until now. In the first major technology upgrade since the 80s, White House staffers are now able to use modern computers and phones.
Until recently, iPhones were scarce, computers and printers were decades old, most office phones were pre-digital (we used to call that analog), and dependable Wi-Fi wasn’t the way of life in the White House as it is in most U.S. homes and coffee shops. A comprehensive equipment and communications systems upgrade by the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House Anita Decker Breckenridge and outside consultant David Recordon, who was hired as the Director of White House Information Technology, now have everyone up to speed, according to The New York Times. Recordon came well-qualified, he previously was tasked with designing and maintaining IT for Facebook employees including Mark Zuckerberg.
The out-of-date technology was a lot of people’s fault. Four separate agencies have oversight of White House Technology including the National Security Council, the Executive Office of the President, the Secret Service and the White House Communications Agency. You don’t have to watch a lot of TV to realize how cumbersomely bureaucratic that could become.
Anecdotes of difficulties communicating from Air Force One to the ground (which has also been updated) and problems that the White House staff had getting support while President Obama was on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 2014 didn’t amuse anyone. Development of a United States Digital Service to upgrade technology outside the White House in 2015 led Ms. Breckenridge to take hold of the technology problem in the White House and on Air Force One.
After the upgrade team pulled 13,000 pounds of unused cables, mapped and rewired the building, and acquired what was needed, the White House staff is now good to go with digital desk phones, fast computers with solid state drives, and even color printers. The four agencies involved had reserved funds from their budgets so the funds for the project were already available. Blackberry cell phones have been the NSA secured communications standard since September 11, 2001 and that’s what President Obama still carries, but iPhones are now allowed among his staff.