Face Off

As they sweep across the country campaigning on pocketbook issues, Al Gore

and George W. Bush rarely mention information technology. But whoever is

elected president will have to navigate the changing landscape that the

technology revolution has brought to the federal government.Part of the next president's mandate will be to direct investments in technology

for federal agencies. "The technology genie is out of the bottle, so either

candidate will push aggressively in introducing technology into government,"

said Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University. "But

they will do it in different ways reflecting their orientation."

How Gore and Bush would treat federal IT investment will be a matter

of style, philosophy and experience.

Ever since he began pushing his National Partnership for Reinventing

Government initiative in 1993, Gore has made his reputation as a techno-guru,

despite his ill-fated claim that he had invented the Internet. Bush, as

the governor of Texas, has taken credit for the state's high-tech boom.

But some federal IT experts say it is a toss-up over who would make

a better high-tech president. "I'm sure it matters who is the next president

as far as IT, but I'm not sure which candidate would be better," said Roger

Baker, chief information officer at the Commerce Department.

Although he couldn't predict what either candidate would do for e-government,

Baker said, "The biggest internal issue the next president will need to

deal with is the dichotomy between our drive toward e-government and its

focus on how customers view government."

A Hint of What's to Come

Although similarity is rarely seen on the campaign trail, there are

some IT issues on which the candidates are in perfect harmony. Both want

a permanent research and development tax credit to spur technology research.

They agree that the federal government should deliver its services electronically

by 2003. And both want to make sure that all government procurement moves

online to ensure efficiency and savings.

There are differences, though. Gore would not appoint an IT czar to

direct governmentwide IT investments; Bush would. Bush also says he would

create a $100 million fund to support interagency e-government projects.

Although neither candidate has said how much he would earmark for IT, both

say they would spend what is necessary for information security.

With their eyes on the future, both candidates have plans for e-government.

The Gore plan would create an online government auction site — called G-Bay — to sell used government equipment. And he would give private citizens

digital certificates or electronic signatures to do business with the government

online.

Bush's plan says that making government more "user- and citizen-friendly"

is just the first step in e-government. He would make it possible for citizens

to tailor government information to their interests and needs, much like

a personalized newspaper or Web site.

Gore as Technologist

There are few other specifics with which to compare the candidates on

an issue not at the top of the public's agenda. For example, both candidates

have given lip service to protecting Web user privacy, but the details are

yet to come from either camp.

It is Gore, not Bush — whose Republican Party traditionally has been

the supporter of tough crime-fighting policies — who talks about using

the Internet to fight crime. In a June speech, he suggested creating an

interactive map showing crime sites to help police chart trends. He proposed

having citizens use e-mail to alert local police departments of suspicious

activities in their neighborhoods.

Gore would be the natural choice to win the technology debate. His record

is clearly defined. Five years before they became popular, Gore was experimenting

with Webcasts. Before most people even heard of handheld computers, Gore

was using one. He takes credit for downsizing the federal government by

377,000 jobs, largely with the help of technology.

"The fact of the matter is Gore understands the technology, and he uses

it, too. He [would be] as Internet-savvy a president as you could possibly

imagine," said Robert Litan, who worked for the Clinton administration and

now is vice president of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

Bush: Use IT to Shrink Government

That is not to say Bush is a novice. But he has virtually acknowledged

that although he is technologically conscious, he is no expert. He sees

technology as a way to implement the conservative philosophy of less government,

lower taxes and less intrusion in people's lives. Although he has not said

how he would change government contracting, it is likely he would look to

the private sector for more outsourcing.

W. Arthur Porter, dean of the College of Engineering at Oklahoma University

and a former technology adviser to Bush in Texas, said Bush may not know

the details, but he knows where to get the information when he needs it.

"He is a free-market guy," Porter said. "He believes in the private

sector. My experience with him is very much government support rather than

government lead."

Bush is Internet-savvy. When his twin daughters were deciding where

to go to college, Bush and his family used the Internet to get information

on colleges and universities. Like Gore, he uses e-mail to keep in touch

with his family and staff.

The Real IT Decision-Makers

Some experts say the policies will be determined on the ground by career

government professionals, not elected officials. "A lot of the work will

be done by the people in place. The only difference [would be] if there

are some strong new cabinet members who are computer literate and understand

what it means to make government paperless," said Ronald Posner, chairman

of NetCatalyst, a California-based venture capital firm that helps U.S.

companies expand overseas.

"Whoever wins in November will bring [in] a new set of senior executives,

and they have to be more accustomed to technology and the Internet and the

Web than those who came in to government in the early 1990s," said Olga

Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association

of America's Enterprise Solutions Division. "That will jump-start electronic

government."

In 1876, no one asked which of the two presidential candidates would

have a bigger impact on the development of the telephone. In 1920, no one

asked which candidate would do more for the broadcast media. And in 2000,

it may not mat-ter which candidate would affect federal IT policy more,

said Philip Klink-ner, a government professor at Hamilton College in New

York.

"Increasingly, government is playing catch-up in having to deal with

issues and developments they didn't shape but are being shaped by thousands

of individuals and companies," Klinkner said.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.