Computers' whir replaces typists' tap-tap at White House
RONALD Reagan doesn't have a computer terminal in the Oval Office. The high technology that so interests China, where he is now traveling, has yet to find a place on the presidential desk.Skip to next paragraph
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With the growing and enthusiastic use of computers in the White House, however, it's just a matter of time before a president of the United States uses his own word processor.
President Reagan's aides are slightly scornful of the state of technology in the Carter White House.
''When I came here in 1980, the office had a telephone and a typewriter 200 years old!'' says Craig L. Fuller, assistant to the President for Cabinet affairs. ''There were hardly any word processors - a dozen or so were stored, but they didn't want to use them.''
''We were shocked to find out how outdated and inefficient the operation was, '' says John W.F. Rogers, special assistant to the President for administration. ''You would have thought they would be at the cutting edge of technology. Yet it got little attention.''
The Carter White House did begin to look at automated systems for operations other than payroll, these officials say. But there were only about 15 word-processing machines on hand, and only limited computer tracking of correspondence, block grants, gifts, and the like.
''Most functions existed in manual form, on 3-by-5 cards,'' Mr. Rogers says. ''The Carter people were the first into the new technology. We seized on their beginning and accelerated it dramatically.''
Today the White House, catching up with other parts of the executive branch of government that make heavy use of computers, is on its way to technological sophistication. The accounting system has been automated. About 150 IBM Display Writers have been installed throughout its offices for clerical personnel.
Moving from bottom to top in the White House hierarchy, there are also three ''executive work stations'' using a modified X-T model of the hard-disk IBM. Linked with a main-frame computer, these machines can call up financial, personnel, and other information to facilitate management tasks. They also connect with an outside commercial data base in order to communicate with other federal agencies and departments. Ultimately there are plans for 40 such stations.
''What has happened here in the last three years is a revolution,'' Rogers says, ''although we're still far short of our goal.'' About $1.2 million has been invested in White House automation in the past three years, he adds.
Introduction of the computers has vastly reduced paper work. With electronic-mail capability, selected offices in the White House can now move presidential speeches and policy information electronically to more than 20 federal departments and agencies, and receive information back.
''It allows us to get our message instantaneously all over town,'' Mr. Fuller says. ''It doesn't mean policy is different, but it ensures that the President will get the views of his departments and agencies in a more timely manner. That helps reinforce the Cabinet system of government.''
Computers have proved useful on the road, too, he adds. ''We travel with a portable electronic-mail unit - the Radio Shack 100 - so we read messages quickly from any point of the world.''
Administrative as well as some policy tasks are performed with the new technology: drafting and editing speeches, processing correspondence (about 5, 000 to 7,000 letters a day are received at the White House), sending messages, scheduling meetings, tracking legislation and Cabinet issues, working out color graphics for presidential budget briefings, supplying letter-perfect correspondence to the President.