- By Judi Hasson
- Sep 25, 2000
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
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
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
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
"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.