- By Judi Hasson
- Jan 21, 2001
President George W. Bush is no amateur when it comes to information technology.He used it as governor of Texas and campaigned on a promise to coordinateIT in government. Now he is preparing to use IT to take the federal governmentin a new direction.
His "to do" list is long. Bush plans to use IT to enhance military readiness,improve education and make the federal government more efficient. And fromall indications, the changes — from less government regulation to a permanentresearch-and-development tax credit — will benefit the high-tech industry.
"George Bush sees IT as a facilitator of government and services forthe public, and he's going to encourage individuals he selects to run departmentsto use technology to make government work better," said Philip Ritter, avice president at Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas. In Texas, Bush oversawone of the biggest high-tech booms in the nation, which created hundredsof new jobs and spurred the state's economy, especially in "Silicon Hills,"the high-tech corridor outside Austin.
As president, Bush's first order of business for enhancing technology isappointing a federal chief information officer, an idea supported by bothDemocrat and Republican lawmakers. Others have dubbed the position an "ITczar"; however, Bush refuses to label the traffic cop for the government'sinternal technology policies.
He's now considering a second top high-tech position at the White House,one that would deal with industry and its concerns. And some of his high-techadvisers are urging the creation of assistant secretary slots to managetechnology at every agency to give IT an even higher profile and emphasisin federal agencies. If approved, those positions would signal a major shiftfrom the status quo, where each department maintains autonomy over its ownIT affairs.
"The government's implementation of technology has been very balkanized,"said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), co-chairman of the Congressional InternetCaucus. He points to the Agriculture Department, where 20 individual agencieswithin the department can decide what technology to use and how to implementit.
A federal technology chief would take this bull by the horns and changeall that, Goodlatte said. It still is unclear, however, whether the postwill control the money that flows to government technology programs — amulti-billion-dollar industry unto itself.
Possible candidates to lead the federal government's IT charge includeFloyd Kvamme, a venture capitalist and early Bush supporter from Menlo Park,Calif.; Carolyn Purcell, executive director of the Texas Department of InformationResources; James Barksdale, former chief executive officer of Netscape CommunicationsCorp.; and Donald Upson, Virginia's secretary of technology.
"For all the sound and fury about reinventing government, the Net hasplayed a zero role in the federal government. It has got to play a role,"said Kvamme, who advised Bush on technology issues during the campaign.
IT and the Budget
One thing is clear: Bush is surrounding himself with business adviserswho likely will reshape the way government deals with IT.
On Jan. 4, he met with more than a dozen high-tech executives in Austinand told them that he would be "available to take phone calls after I'msworn in, to listen to their concerns. And I look forward to working withthem."
One industry official said the executives walked away knowing that"tech policy will be a high priority. Exactly how they are going to handlethat is still, as yet, not [set] in concrete." Clearly, there will be someonein the Bush administration with a lot of hands-on technology experience,the official said.
Bush's budget is likely to be the first road map of where he will taketechnology. Some experts say government IT spending may be accelerated asBush turns to accomplish his goals of downsizing government, returning powerto the states and making e-government a reality.
Many of the government's multibillion-dollar IT programs are alreadyunder way, from the Navy Marine Corps Intranet to the Internal Revenue Servicemodernization program; there is little Bush could doto stop funding them. And many say he wouldn't want to.
John Koskinen, the former Year 2000 chief who helped the federal governmentsuccessfully avoid the Year 2000 date change problem, said he did not expecta major change in IT direction.
"IT is obviously a major program for any large organization, and theprograms that have been developed are not political," Koskinen said. "Thenew administration understands the importance of it and will want to continuethe government's movement toward the IT Age."
Bush's budget is expected to include a $100 million fund that wouldrun IT programs across government, similar to one he created in Texas, andsome innovative ideas for closing the digital divide, especially in education.
He's had plenty of experience working with technology. As governor,his IT strategic plan called for giving all Texans easy, direct access toinformation on state programs and services, and the e-Texas plan is oneof the most advanced in the nation. He cut the state Internet-access anddata-processing taxes — and signed legislation increasing salaries for manyIT positions in Texas, well aware of the growing need for a skilled workforcein his own state.
"He's a big fan and user of technology," said Sandy Kress, a Texas lawyeradvising Bush on education policy. "He's very keen on showing the relationshipbetween technology and reaching academic goals."
In Texas, Bush pushed to wire every school, library and hospital tothe Internet. He backed virtual learning to help raise education standardsand supported using the Internet to deliver better services, ranging fromhealth care to records management.
Now Upson said Bush is looking at how "technology, properly managed,can make processes of government more responsive, not only in agencies,but across government."
A key to his approach may be how the Office of Management and Budgetdeals with the rules and regulations that dictate IT policies. A federalCIO likely will find a home at the agency, which is responsible for reviewingall regulations from every agency before they are released. And with theappointment of economist Mitchell Daniels Jr., a former aide to PresidentReagan who's now a drug company lobbyist, many of OMB's familiar practicesmay change.
"We're hoping things don't go back to the Reagan-Bush era, where regulationswent into OMB and never came out," said Patrice McDermott of OMB Watch,a watchdog group.
Nevertheless, the IT community will see dramatic, and immediate, changesin federal policy. The CIO Council, though mandated by legislation, likelywill lose power. The National Partnership for Reinventing Government — ofwhich former Vice President Al Gore was so proud — is out of business. And even such concepts as seat management, public-key infrastructuresecurity and outsourcing may be traded in for newer ideas such as privatizingIT projects, one-stop shopping for IT services and a new look at how toprotect the government's high-tech infrastructure.
"What [Bush] is looking at is not the usual issues of process but howtechnology, properly managed, can make processes of government more responsive,not only in agencies, but across government," Upson said.
To that end, Bush has surrounded himself with cabinet appointees andadvisers who are experienced technology hands. Among them is Education Secretary-designateRod Paige, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District anda major advocate of using technology to improve education. The U.S. Senatehad not voted on Paige's nomination at press time.
"We've come a long way from the little red schoolhouse to the virtualschoolhouse, the digital schoolhouse," Paige said last year. "This [technology]is the schoolhouse for the future."
In Houston, he spearheaded such initiatives as "virtual schools," wherehigh school students could take courses online, and backed other initiativesto enhance student performance, such as taking Advanced Placement testsonline.
"The Internet is changing people's lives," Paige said. "Here in Houston,we're going to use the Internet to help our children change their own future."
In some ways, high technology is the "guns and butter" of the 21st century,and no one knows that better than Bush's Defense Secretary-designate DonaldRumsfeld. Well-known for using technology to help create the modern military,his support of the missile defense system is a clear signal that IT wouldbe an integral part of modernizing the military.
Rumsfeld, whose nomination had not been confirmed at press time, isa leading proponent of national missile defenses and U.S. efforts to takecontrol of outer space by developing the technology to attack and defendsatellites in orbit.
"We are in a new national security environment," Rumsfeld said whenBush nominated him in December. "We do need to be arranged to deal withthe new threats, not the old ones, with information warfare, missile defense,terrorism, defense of our space assets and the proliferation of weaponsof mass destruction throughout the world."
With the threat of cybersecurity problems only growing, national securityexperts say there could be a major change in the way government protectsitself against the plague of cyberattacks.
Bush "will be surrounded by people who understand some of the real-lifeconstraints in protecting infrastructure and maintaining an effective technologypolicy," said one high- level security adviser who declined to be identified.
Experts say Bush is likely to reorganize the federal critical infrastructureprotection effort and possibly change the role of the FBI's National InfrastructureProtection Center, established to investigate attacks against the nation'scritical infrastructures. But no one is saying if he will, least of allBush.
"The nature of the beast requires IT be changed. I think the Bush administrationwill accept the challenge," said Donald Arnold, vice chairman of the IndustryAdvisory Council. "Where the real power lies is going to shift."