Did AP Mangle Story of whitehouse.gov Overhaul?

Dennis Byron

There's a strange Associated Press story floating as of Saturday, Oct. 24 about the White House Web site, and how it has been redeveloped from an information technology point of view. The story says something like (depending on how it is picked up in various other media outlets):

White House opens Web site programming to public Having the public write code may seem like a security risk, but it's just the opposite, experts inside and outside the government argued. Because programmers collaborate to find errors or opportunities to exploit Web code, the final product is therefore more secure When the model was owned solely by the government, federal contractors would have to work through the reams of code to troubleshoot it or upgrade it. Now, it can be done in the matter of days and free to taxpayers.

I am trying to get some more information in the traditional journalistic fashion (by calling and writing sources), but in the meantime, I am pretty sure the AP story represents the worst case of what can happen when the mainstream media gets a hold of an enterprise software story that has anything to do with open source terms and conditions or the open source software culture. You cannot go mucking with the White House Web site, other than to leave comments. Security is unlikely the issue. And -- this being the federal government -- federal contractors (about seven of them) are involved.


Still the AP story being so viral means maybe sometime this week, your CEO or other boss will be calling you and saying, "If it's good enough for Obama"


As best I can tell -- and the best source seems to be the site techpresident -- when it came into office, the Obama administration put out a request for proposal (RFP) to update the previous administration's version of the whitehouse.gov Web site. It is unclear how old the Bush version of whitehouse.gov was or what type of software it used. Assuming the Web site was nearly as old as the 8-year-old Bush administration, that RFP seems reasonable.


That Bush-era Web site was built by mega Fed IT contractor General Dynamics. After the RFP process -- or perhaps on a no-bid basis given the speed with which the procurement process was completed -- the contract for the new Web site went to. drumroll please General Dynamics, not a bunch of guys that work for free in a matter of days.

General Dynamics chose the content management software (CMS), Drupal, an open source project managed by a company called Acquia (see my blog post about Drupal on ebizQ via this link). Acquia is to Drupal what Red Hat is to Fedora or Canonical is to Ubuntu or pretty soon, what Oracle is to MySQL. According to the techpresident Web site:

General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) was tasked by the Obama Administration with finding a more flexible alternative.

But it is unclear whether GDIT choose Drupal or GTID was told to use Drupal by the White House IT folks, who according to other stories on techpresident had previously used a proprietary CMS sysem called Blue Digital. It would be interesting to know why one product was chose over the other but, despite the theme of all the blogospheric coverage I've seen, open source would clearly not be the reason. GDIT or the White House could have just as easily chosen/specified Alfresco or other open source CMS products if open source was the criteria. It would also be useful to find out what CMS had been used by GDIT on the Bush site and why it changed suppliers if it in fact made the decision.

But one thing seems clear: Even President Obama isn't letting a bunch of hackers loose in the West Wing in the name of enterprise software (or open government or any other kind of) freedom. Don't let your CIO or CEO suggest you do it in your shop based on this AP story.

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