Congress to tackle incumbent issues

When the 107th Congress convenes in January, it will confront many of the same information technology issues that preoccupied the 106th.

From admitting more foreign IT workers to Internet taxation to online privacy, many of the topics will be familiar. But the way Congress tackles them might be a bit different.

Consider the issue of foreign IT workers. In response to loud complaints about worker shortages, lawmakers in the 106th Congress increased the number of foreign workers who could come into the United States for IT jobs.

But there's still a critical shortage of IT workers, said Darrel Issa, a newly elected Republican representative from Southern California. Even with the developing economic slowdown, high-technology industries will have a tough time filling vacant jobs, he said. Raising the foreign worker visa cap will be a priority for both houses of Congress, he said.

However, this time lawmakers are likely to be receptive to a longer-term solution. So during the 107th Congress, industry organizations will be pushing for major improvements in technology education, said Connie Correll, communications director for the Information Technology Industry Council.

Look for increased congressional interest in programs to increase training for teachers, IT equipment in classrooms and more technology emphasis in school curriculums, she said. "It's a huge issue for our companies." And chances for meaningful education legislation are improved by the presidential election, which made education a key issue.

Privacy is certain to be another key issue for the 107th Congress. Several lawmakers campaigned on the issue of improving Internet privacy, including incoming Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and even Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Other issues expected to reappear before Congress next year include:

    * Internet taxation: Businesses want the current moratorium extended.

    * Export controls: Businesses want them eased.

    * E-government: Congress may fund programs to put government services online.

Then, there is a new issue that is certain to get congressional attention: election reform.

Issa, who comes to Congress as a high-tech entrepreneur and chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, predicts Congress will pursue developing a nationwide computer database of voters, computerized voting and common voting protocols nationwide.

Bills already have been introduced to fund development and acquisition of new voting technology.

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