Waiting, watching to make a move

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

off.

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

necessary.

"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

hand."

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

to use.

"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.

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