Federal administration in the lead-up to the computer

Erschienen in Itinera, Band 49: Digital Federalism.
Herausgegeben von Paolo Bory und Daniela Zetti

Abstract: This paper examines the context in which the first computers, yet to be ordered in fall 1960, were interpreted by the Swiss federal administration. The focus of investigation is the moment when, by means of an inconspicuous note to the Swiss Federal Council, responsibility for upgrading the federal administration’s Statistical Office to computers shifted from the Statistical Office to the Central Office for Organizational Affairs. This paper will further show how the Central Office was able to define the computer not as a better tool for statistics (in line with punched card machines), but rather as a general purpose machine available to the entire federal administration. Henceforth, computer projects would inevitably involve a series of trade-offs: between general availability and individual use, between management hierarchies and project organization, between the needs of the computer and the needs of the entire federal administration, and between a range of actors who had to find ways to cooperate.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Figure: Handwritten notes in the «Report on Renewal of the Equipment of the Statistical Office» (Swiss Federal Archives E6502–02#2002/226#16*). «A transaction of such costly dimensions requires the approval of the Federal Council. 2/9/60 [illegible signature] / To Federal Statistical Office / Request for a motion to the Federal Council. Considering its importance, an expert opinion from the Central Office for Organizational Affairs should be attached. 2/9/60. Tschudi» BAR, Note.

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