Waiting, watching to make a move
- By Judi Hasson
- Apr 17, 2000
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is in the catbird's seat these days when it comes
to the Internet revolution.
As the co-chairman of the 100- member Congressional Internet Caucus
and chairman of the House Republican High-Tech Working Group, he is one
of the first stops for lobbyists looking for better government policy — or, in the case of cyberspace, no policy at all.
And as the representative of a rural Virginia district just outside
the booming high-tech region of Northern Virginia, Goodlatte said it is
important to keep government "out of the way" to enable technology to take
So when it comes to federal agencies and their use of information technology,
Goodlatte's philosophy is "wait and watch" as the federal government struggles
toward the Digital Age. But he said he knows one thing for sure: In the
not-too-distant future, an Internet czar will be not only desirable, but
"In a lot of areas, the government is not leading the way," Goodlatte
said. "There are ways of making the federal government more consumer friendly,
making sure the systems are interoperable."
As chairman of a House Agriculture Committee subcommittee, he said he
has seen the problems firsthand and has been a critic of the Agriculture
Department's technology policies, in particular.
"It is a bad situation. There are 28 different agencies [within the
USDA], and they have separate authorities and separate plans," he said.
"People in some buildings can't e-mail people in others. There is no strong
Goodlatte pointed to his own state, where Republican Gov. James Gilmore
created a cabinet-level post of secretary of technology and named industry
executive Don Upson its first officeholder, as an example of what the federal
government can do to smooth the way for the Digital Age. There is no comparable
position at the federal level.
"Something is needed in the federal government," Goodlatte said. "I
think there ought to be far more attention at the highest levels."
For example, he said, the administration was slow in easing encryption
rules to allow U.S. companies to export encryption products overseas. As
a result, he said, "We had a policy that stunted our growth," allowing Europe,
Canada and Israel to capture huge blocks of the market.
"We've created some formidable competition," he lamented.
Goodlatte ultimately will vote later this year on how big IT budgets
should be across government, but his more immediate concerns involve the
future of legislation on electronic signatures, H-1B visas for foreign
IT workers, and liability and security issues.
When it comes to giving every American a computer, he's more cautious.
He does not believe in handing out a machine that people don't know how
"I would support IT when there's a proper plan," Goodlatte said. "People
should have technology providing they are capable of using it."
Despite his position, Goodlatte is not the big tech user one might suspect.
He never sends his colleagues e-mail, for instance, because he would rather
talk to them in person. He never responds to constituents via e-mail because
he's worried about security breaches.
And he hasn't become attached to fancy new gadgets, either. Goodlatte
said he is not using a handheld computer yet because his staff hasn't found
good scheduling software for it. He'd rather walk around with an index card
in his pocket that tells him where he should be, he said.
Still, Goodlatte said, technology will make the world more efficient.
"Consumers will demand it, and government will have to respond," he said.
Although Goodlatte doesn't send out e-mail messages, he does respond
to e-mail inquiries through traditional means.