change dot gov

Change.gov: Barack Obama's transition site

Change.gov is the website for the transition of president-elect Barack Obama. One of the pages there supported mandatory community service, and that page was quickly sent down the memory hole after that was pointed out. Later, the entire "Agenda" section was removed. Then, it was announced that Obama would be uploading his weekly radio address as videos to Youtube and other services. As predicted at that link, no form of interaction was allowed when the videos were eventually posted.

Then, videos were posted there that were like something from the West Wing TV show.

The current latest entertaining scams are a Digg-like voting system that will allow visitors to vote for questions Obama will be asked. However, as illustrated by other similar attempts, popular voting systems only allow the weakest questions to be voted to the top. They've also added a highly similar "Citizen's Briefing Book" which suffers from the same flaws.

Note that the site change.dov uses the IP address 69.25.74.162, and if you put that into your browser's address bar you'll be taken to a holding page for Blue State Digital, a private company. The Government Services Administration is the registrar for .gov names, and they say at dotgov.gov:

To maintain domain name integrity, eligibility is limited to qualified government organizations and programs. Having a managed domain name such as .gov assures your customers that they are accessing an official government site.

In response to my inquiry, GSA says that change.gov is operating within the law. While persuasive, that is just their opinion.

And, it later turned out that an exception was made for Obama, something that the GSA did not tell me in their response.

Last modified Jan 15, 2009
Discussed in (click each link for the full post):

The "Citizen's Briefing Book", the latest Barack Obama scam - 01/15/09

The latest scam from the Barack Obama camp is a "Citizen's Briefing Book" at change dot gov: citizensbriefingbook.change.gov

Change.gov Round 2: Ask Obama stupid questions, get stock responses - 01/13/09

Barack Obama's change dot gov has released their responses for the second round of their scam where they encouraged people to submit and vote for questions that Obama would answer (change.gov/newsroom/entry/open_for_questions_round_2_response). As with other popular voting systems, it was designed to fail, with weak questions being voted up while tough questions (such as the ones I submitted) languishing or being voted down (my vote totals at that link).

What might have worked is if people had submitted only a small number of very tough questions and voted those up. Instead, dozens or hundreds of questions on one topic were submitted, with the weakest rising to the top. And, in at least one case, they selected a lower-ranked question than one that they apparently didn't want to answer. While they've redirected change.gov/openforquestions to the response link above, you can see the voting as it was at change.gov/page/content/openforquestions20081229

This time around, they've divided the answers into two parts: top-ranked questions that they already answered, and a video containing their answers to new, supposedly top-ranked questions that they hadn't already answered. Except, they'd already answered those too.

The video (link) consists of future White House press secretary Robert Gibbs answering a series of very weak questions, all of which - surprise! - are related to policies that Obama is pushing. For instance, here's the first one he answers:

What strategies other than bailouts can we employ to keep jobs in America?

Gibbs says that's a very good question, and it is: for him. Because, it allows him to simply launch into a commercial for Obama's stimulus scheme.

Note that the question above came in fourth in the Economy category, right behind this slightly tougher, unanswered question:

Will President Obama, work to remove tax incentives for US corporations, who move their operations over seas?

In the National Security category, a War on Drugs question was at #1; it was a bad question, but they didn't answer it.

The other questions Gibbs answers all give him a chance to launch into stock speeches, including those about No Child Left Behind, transit, universal healthcare, and science. The one about science is incredibly weak; tougher questions were asked in Politburo debates:

How will the Obama administration encourage the future generations of Americans to become the world's leading scientists and engineers?

As Gibbs describes, Obama has a plan! Gibbs even references the fact that he's heard Obama give answers to these issues on the campaign trail.

The only slight news on the video is a question about whether they'll repeal Dont Ask Dont Tell, which Gibbs answers with one word: "yes". Of course, we already knew that: in April 2008, Obama said he'd get rid of it, even if he hedged a bit on the timing in September of that year. Why ask Obama a question he's already answered?

The other section is entitled "Previously Addressed Questions", and that's where they relegate gems such as this from Bob Fertik of democrats.com:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

They answer with previous quotes from Obama which basically boil down to him hemming and hawing about him looking into the issue. The answer about a Palestinian state is more hemming and hawing; on January 20th we'll hear his thoughts on the matter.

And, the potheads are out of luck again: Obama responds to their latest attempt with the answer he gave them before that he won't legalize marijuana.

The bottom line is that "Open for Questions" was a scam, and you should look very closely at all those who submitted and promoted weak questions. They either knew they were participating in a setup, or they couldn't figure that out. Either way, they aren't doing you or the U.S. much of a service.

More immigration questions for Barack Obama (change.gov Open for Questions) - 12/29/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov is starting round two of their "Open for Questions" scam (why it's a scam is explained here) where they solicit questions from the public at change.gov/openforquestions.

GSA misled me: exception was made for change.gov - 12/20/08

Earlier this month I sent an email to the .gov registrar - part of the Government Services Administration - inquiring whether Obama's transition site change dot gov was within the federal rules for .gov domain names. They indicated it was.

Obama releases "answers" to change.gov user-generated "questions" (420, dude) - 12/15/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov recently asked the citizens to submit questions which he would deign to answer. Now, the answers to the "top" questions have been released here.

The questions were weak, the answers were weak and could have been gleaned from Obama's positions. All that was predictable; see the discussion of popular voting systems.

First, my question - tougher than any of the others I saw - got 17 up votes versus 13 down votes. Since the question is fact-based, one wonders why 13 people didn't think Obama should have been asked it.

Reading these questions is making me weep for our Idiocracy. This is the most popular question:

"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

The answer:

President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

I'm going to leave the research to you the reader, but typing a few common-sense search queries would have quickly revealed Obama's position, albeit a bit "nuanced" ("decriminalization" vs. "legalization") and possibly involving a minor flip-flop. Why couldn't the person who asked the question have done that first? How could the stoned hippie that asked the question know how to find the form to submit a question but not know how to use Google? Why would anyone vote for such a stupid question that Obama had already basically answered?

Another "top" question was:

What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?

You the reader can probably answer that in your sleep, and you don't even work for the Obama administration:

President-elect Barack Obama does not believe an economic crisis is an excuse for wasteful and unnecessary spending. As our economic teams works with congressional leadership to put together a plan, we will put in place reforms to ensure that your money in invested well. We will also bring Americans back into government by amending executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public. In addition all appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies will be required to conduct the significant business of the agency in public so that every citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

What did anyone expect him to say? "I'm going to blow it on American Dad Bendables?"

GSA says Change.gov is a legal, "hybrid" site - 12/11/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov is, per the Government Services Administration, legal. A few have speculated that it might be operating outside the letter of the law due to the fact that it's hosted at the private Blue State Digital and has non-governmental privacy policies and the like. The GSA statement (below), while persuasive, is just their opinion and it still seems a bit odd to have a .gov site that has a privacy policy ripped from various candidates' websites. Here's the (probably boilerplate) email that registrar *at* dotgov.gov recently sent me in response to my inquiry:
www.Change.gov is legal because the presidential transition is an activity with hybrid support from Government and the private funds from the President-elect - and others. The Office of the President-elect is specifically recognized by federal law, specifically -- The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended (3 USC 102 note). It is a unique entity that is entitled to government support while still retaining characteristics of a private organization. Section 3 of the Presidential Transition Act authorizes the General Services Administration to provide services and support to the Office of the President-elect beginning the day after the election until 30 days after the inauguration. Based on the federally recognized status of the Office of the President-elect, and GSA's responsibility to support the Office, we have determined that it is appropriate for them to use a .gov domain. This is the same conclusion that we reached in the presidential transition of 2000-2001.

Below is a listing of other functions that we perform for president-elects as they enter office. We also support the departing president with certain functions after they leave office.

Presidential Transition Overview
The transfer of power from one administration to the next marks a significant moment in U.S. history. Many federal employees may not realize that we play a prominent role in this process. The Presidential Transition Act authorizes the U.S. General Services Administration to provide the President-elect and the Vice-President-elect the services and facilities needed to assume their official duties.
Some of GSA's responsibilities include:
* Providing temporary office space, parking, furniture, telephones, furnishings, supplies, IT equipment, mail management, payroll, financial, contracting and other administrative services for the transition team;
* Consulting with Presidential candidates prior to the general election, to develop a plan for technology systems that will support the transition between the election and the inauguration;
* Paying for travel, printing, postal services and other expenses;
* Developing in collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) a transition directory to help familiarize key Administration officials with information about each department and agency;
* Coordinating orientation activities with high level nominees and appointees;
* Supporting the Presidential Inaugural Committee;
* Providing support to the outgoing President and the former Vice-President;
* At the end of the transition period, establishes the permanent office of the former President, and maintains a budget to manage the office during the lifetime of the President.

My change.gov question for Barack Obama (in-state tuition for illegal aliens) - 12/11/08

Change dot gov is soliciting questions from the citizens and allowing others to vote on submitted questions. Presumably Obama will answer the most popular questions and, as previously discussed this system shares the same flaws as other popular voting systems and is thus little more than a scam designed to fool people into thinking that Obama will answer tough questions.

As a test, I (using the same Robert Bellaire pseudonym as I used at MyBHO) submitted the following question. Due to character length limitations I didn't include as much supporting information as I would have wanted:

You support giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens. But, each such discount given to an illegal alien represents one that's taken away from a U.S. citizen. What would you say to a U.S. citizen who can't go to college because of what you support?

I wasn't able to determine a permalink for the question, but you can find it by searching for tuition illegal at change.gov/page/content/openforquestions.

I predict it will get very few up votes and a larger number of down votes, and it might be marked as "inappropriate" and removed entirely as they've done with other questions. However, if I got, say, an Instapundit-level of traffic I could probably propel it near the top. And, that illustrates the peril of such systems and why they're a scam: the questions that Obama should be asked will never make it out of the starting gate.

12/29/08 UPDATE: I did slightly better than expected, getting 17 up and 13 down. More on that and the other questions here.

I also resubmitted the same question for Round 2 of their contest. They've added categories for education, defense, etc. meaning there will be slightly less noise. However, as before, my tough question will be ignored in favor of lightweight questions that Obama won't have trouble with.

New Obama scam: visitors vote for questions he'll be asked - 12/10/08

Barack Obama has recently launched a new effort that lets visitors to change dot gov submit questions he should be asked. Others then vote those questions up or down, and he'll presumably answer the top rated questions at some point in time: change.gov/page/content/openforquestions

This is, in a word, a scam: it shares the same huge design flaw as other popular voting systems in which weak questions are pushed to the top while the questions he should be asked are ignored. In fact, he has experience with such a scheme, where a weak question from the 10Questions group was asked of him after MoveOn asked its members to propel it to the top of the list.

For instance, MoveOn has three million or so members. If a discomforting question looks like it is rising to the top, all they'd have to do is tell their members to go vote up a weak, setup question and the "problem" would be solved.

And, the current top question is incredibly weak:

What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?

That's akin to asking, "Comrade Lenin, what will you do to ensure that the Five Year Plan is carried out?" Obama won't have any problems with that question, and they probably have boilerplate in one of his past statements answering the very question.

NOT-VERY-SURPRISING UPDATE: "Blagojevich questions censored on Transition site" (link) has a screengrab of three questions involving Blago that were marked as "inappropriate" and removed from the list of possibilities. Who could have predicted that something like that would happen? Oh, yeah, I did.

Sham: Obama to hold "fireside chats" on Youtube - 11/14/08

Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post breathlessly informs us of this:
Today, President-elect Obama will record the weekly Democratic address not just on radio but also on video -- a first.

Cached copy of Barack Obama's change.gov agenda section - 11/10/08

Barack Obama's change.gov - the official president-elect transition site - deleted their entire Agenda section over the weekend. There's apparently a cached copy here, although I haven't verified it since I didn't bother saving off my own copy.

UPDATE: There's a better-looking version from Google's cache here. As with the other one I didn't verify it.

Mandatory community service still included in Obama's preK-12 education plan - 11/08/08

Yesterday, we discussed how one page at Barack Obama's new change.gov site said he'd push for mandatory community service. The campaign later changed that page to match the more voluntary-oriented statements the campaign made elsewhere.

However, there's still one thing they'll probably want to send down the memory hole. The file barackobama.com/pdf/issues/PreK-12EducationFactSheet.pdf (available under the link "Read the Pre-K to 12 Plan" at barackobama.com/issues/education contains the following:
VIII.

Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel want mandatory community service?; contradicts earlier statements; 100 hours/year in college - 11/07/08

Yet more fun with Barack Obama's president-elect website change.gov, as the page change.gov/americaserves has this:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

This "requirement" contradicts not only past statements, but another statement on change.gov. From the page "Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan for Universal Voluntary Public Service" at change.gov/agenda/service:

Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year... Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama and Biden will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year...

Not only is there a contradiction between pages, there's one in the last sentence, since usually getting money is associated with being able to opt in or out.

Note that the change.gov/agenda/service version is basically the same as the current version of barackobama.com/issues/service, the version in his "Blueprint for Change" PDF (accessed 2/11/08), and the 1/3/08 version of barackobama.com/issues/service.

So, which is controlling? Will children be "required", or is his program voluntary. Or, is it "voluntary", where hoops must be jumped through in order to avoid taking part?

Note also that in his 2006 book The Plan: Big Ideas for America (link), new BHO chief of staff and Representative Rahm Emanuel said:

It's time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service... Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They'll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we're hit by a natural disaster...

Now, see Barack Obama's "civilian national security force"

UPDATE: As pointed out by several others, the "U.S. government", also known as the part of BHO's campaign behind change.gov, has changed the language on the page at change.gov first discussed above to bring it more in line with the other language. And, they don't provide any indication that there was a change. Silently changing their website to match the new set of facts is something they've done before.

The part at change.gov/americaserves that changed was this:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

That's now this:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

The last is basically the same as in their PDF and what's at change.gov/agenda/service.

Change.gov? Obama launches his own president-elect website - 11/06/08

This is just great: change.gov (I actually said another word before "great", and I'll let everyone imagine what that word was.)

That's the official site for the "office of the president-elect", a new government website just to help usher in Barack Obama. And, it's not from the Bush-welcome-to-DC perspective, but instead from the Obama-I'm-in-charge-now perspective.

He's even got a wonderful form you can use called "An American Moment: Your Story" (change.gov/page/s/yourstory):

Start right now.