Republican Palm push

The chairman of the Senate Republican Conference is urging his fellow Republicans to start using handheld computers to carry everything from their daily schedules to party position papers.

"We're trying to bring the Senate on the Republican side into the digital world," said Sen. Rick Santorum, 42, who was elected conference chairman in January. So far, he said he knows of 11 other Republicans who use handheld devices to retrieve information through a service the caucus has made available to all 50 Senate Republicans.

The conference selects the Republican leadership in the Senate and helps set Republican policies and legislative priorities. Thus as chairman, Santorum wants to keep all Senate Republicans in close touch with the conference.

With software developed by AvantGo Inc., the Republican Conference can provide its members with the latest policy papers, issue briefs, press releases and other information whenever they need it and pretty much wherever they are.

It takes about 30 seconds to update thousands of pages of information and store them in handheld computers, said Felix Lin, chairman and co-founder of AvantGo. The service provided to the Republicans also includes access to more than 1,000 news sources, e-mail and Internet access, he said.

Santorum said he uses Palm Inc.'s Palm VII that he plugs into a cradle in his office several times a day for schedule revisions, news and conference information updates. Lin said AvantGo can also deliver the information through wireless connections, telephone lines and modems.

Besides keeping Republican senators informed, Santorum said the AvantGo service is expected to save the Republican Conference money usually spent on printing. When the Senate goes into recess, for example, the conference usually prints a "recess packet" of position papers and other information for senators.

At a cost of $1,800 per recess, "it's fairly expensive," he said, but much of the cost could be saved by publishing the packet on the conference intranet and getting members to download it, he said.

Getting conference members to switch to handheld computers could also save some wear and tear on senators — or their assistants — who now lug paper-based information around in brief cases that Santorum described as "cumbersome."

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