As the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama is about to step down in a matter of days. As POTUS contemplates his overall legacy to the nation, others are looking back at what sort of legacy he has left behind in matters of science, technology, and even innovation in the past eight years.
While many agree that he had some successes, he could have done more had he been able to give more funds to the necessary agencies and innovations.
Government Use of Technology
This is actually part of his campaign promise to effect some change in government. Obama required the whole structure of the U.S. government to use technology to be more effective, innovative, and most of all, transparent. The Open Government Directive showed that he wanted to see digital technology change how government works, too. Eight years later, this completely overlooked and underrated thread of his legacy may become one of the most enduring. The United States Digital Service was formed to help agencies prevent big projects spiraling out of control. Then, a second group, called 18F, was created to help agencies improve how they build and procure technology. It encourages avoiding cumbersome procurement contracts in favor of the flexibility offered by open-source software and cloud services.
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Net Neutrality has Turned Ugly
The FCC’s Open Internet Order, the seminal statement by the Obama administration on the topic, now seems in danger. The law, enacted in 2015, bans ISP’s from blocking or throttling legal traffic, and from engaging in business arrangements in which companies pay extra to have their traffic prioritized. It also gives the FCC the authority to police other practices potentially harmful to consumers or to competition. The FCC recently acted on that authority when officials expressed “serious concerns” that some companies may be violating the law by letting users stream DirecTV without it counting against their data caps, a practice called “zero rating.” Fear that this kind of preferential treatment would hurt competition is just one controversy. Other controversies also contributed to net neutrality rules being struck down in 2014, and the FCC followed President Obama’s suggestion to strengthen the policy by classifying broadband as a “telecommunications service” rather than an “information service,” as it had been before. That allowed the FCC to treat ISP’s as common carriers, like airlines or telephone companies, a classification subject to stricter regulation. In reality, tech companies can’t wait for president-elect Donald Trump to sit down and repeal the Open Internet Order.
In manufacturing, not many people know that it was Obama, not Trump, who made the promise to produce more jobs in the U.S. and remove the dependence on outsourcing to cheap but corrupt countries like the Philippines, China, and Brazil. However, in his eight years, Obama produced only less than a million jobs in manufacturing, and even less in the energy sector, while creating almost 15 million jobs in sectors that could afford to give less hourly rates like food service and retail. In fact, the private sector by itself was able to produce some 10 million jobs in the tech industry that supported manufacturing, but many of these workers were invited foreign workers on temporary working visas.