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BlackBerry Hill: Droids, iPhones Yet to Make Headway in Capitol

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
According to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, there are about 10,600 government-supplied smartphones being used by House staffers. Of those, about 1,500 are iPhones and 100 are Androids. The rest, about 9,000, are BlackBerrys.

According to the “Dear Colleague” letter announcing the introduction of the iPhone to the House system, those using the Good Technology application cannot access email with the same speed as those using BlackBerrys. “The iPhone 3GS’s functionality on the House network is not the same as the Blackberry device,” said the announcement, which provides a link to a comparison chart located on the House intranet. “While users of the iPhone device will be able to access their House email accounts, their emails will not be received in ‘real-time’ as they are on the Blackberry,” the announcement explains.

“With BlackBerry devices, a user is notified when the email is downloaded to the device,” explained an email from Dan Weiser, communications director for the Office of the CAO for the House. “With the Good application, a user is notified that a message is ready to be downloaded. The user opens the application and the message is downloaded.”

Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation — a group that has received past funding from RIM — recounted hearing staffers express their displeasure with the iPhone’s time lag in receiving Congressional email: “They didn’t seem satisfied and felt that it is not meeting their needs.”

Fitch said this is an example of Congress’ constant struggle to keep up with an ever-changing technological landscape. “This is just frankly a function of the rapid growth of technology and the challenge that offices have to try to keep up with it,” he said. “The pace of tech is so fast. … It’s a real challenge for Congressional offices to adapt.”

It makes sense that people are satisfied with a professional phone for work, Fitch said, because so many have a consumer phone such as the iPhone or an Android device for their personal business.

“I am often stunned at the number of people who walk around with multiple devices,” he said. He called Congressional offices “like the Wild West of technology,” comparing the number of devices people carry on their hips to six-shooters.

According to Weiser, the Office of the CAO for the House is not opposed to opening up email access to other devices as they become relevant in the future. Right now, it’s a question of security.

“Devices are approved after they are certified to integrate with the House’s email solution and do not introduce unmitigated risk to the House environment,” Weiser said.

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