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State employee to Clinton: Give us Firefox!

The State Department's two Twitter accounts and fancy-looking blog serve as a testament to the government's effort to keep up with technology trends. And soon, if they're lucky, State employees might even get to use Firefox.

At Hillary Clinton's recent town hall meeting, State and USAID employees lined up to let her know what they think (seen above). When relatively new hire Jim Finkle requested the browser Clinton needed some backup from Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy:

[FINKLE]: Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can --

[FINKLE]: It’s free. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Nothing is free. (Laughter.) It’s a question of the resources to manage multiple systems. It is something we’re looking at...

Clinton went on to say that State had requested money for IT upgrades and she hopes Firefox works out. She also encouraged the audience to let her know of other ways the government can save money to use for similar upgrades in the future. 

While they are upgrading, if Clinton really wants to increase productivity at Foggy Bottom, I think there is a clear solution: iPhones for everyone. Ohmygov! already has a guide to "11 iPhone apps to make your government job easier."

(H/T: Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason.) 

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Fixing foreign aid

After many mumblings of foreign assistance reform in the works, some concrete signs came from today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, "The Case for Reform: Foreign Aid and Development in a New Era."

That the Senate is holding such a hearing in the first place cause for applause. Once taboo, critiques of the U.S. aid system are now prolific -- coming from NGOs, academics, observers, and even the U.S. government itself. In fact, FP and Oxfam held a joint event to talk about just this last week. The flurry of discussion is clearly being noticed.

So what's wrong with aid? As Senator John Kerry put it in his statement,

[Experts] agree that too often decision-makers lack basic information about the actual impact of our development programs. They also agree that excessive bureaucracy and regulations and fragmented coordination are hampering our efforts to swiftly and effectively deliver assistance. And they agree that even as we plan for broad, fundamental reform, there are many steps we can take in the interim to dramatically improve the effectiveness of our foreign aid efforts."

Fixing all that is a tall order, especially with big domestic fish to fry (read: healthcare). But Afghanistan and Pakistan -- once again the first fronts on the war on terror -- bring these questions to the fore. There, the U.S. military is desperate to win hearts and minds, and helping out with roads, schools, hospitals -- in addition to security -- is one of the best ways to do just that. As the Counterinsurgency manual puts it, "military operations create temporary breathing space, but... long-term development and stabilization by civilian agencies are required to prevail."

So I, for one, am pleased that there are discussions ongoing -- and hopeful they'll be followed up with action. Read more about what the experts on the ground think needs fixing here.

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