GOP spells out keys to e-Contract

Typing on a laptop computer in the Capitol, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) sends greetings via AOL's Instant Messenger to Secretary Donald Evans a mile away at the Commerce Department.

It's enough to make a seventh-grader wince.

Poking the keys with three fingers, Armey slowly taps out a one-sentence message to the Commerce secretary.

Long, long pause.

Finally, Evans' brief reply pops up on the screen.

Armey gives it another try, and again there's a protracted wait. Armey jokes that Evans must be drafting a lengthy response. Eventually another sentence or two pop up.

"Is this a demonstration of the productivity increases you were talking about?" a reporter cracks.

Armey has had enough. "Thanks," he taps out, spelling it with an unnecessary "q," and invites Evans to go fishing sometime.

It was supposed to be a technology demonstration to accompany the unveiling of the House Republicans' e-Contract with High-Tech America. But it probably served better to illustrate Armey's contention that when it comes to technology, things often work best if government "doesn't get in the way."

Armey, the House majority leader, promised Wednesday that Republicans would "make sure government stays out of the way."

"We stand for reduced taxation, regulation and litigation to prevent government from stifling innovation," Armey said.

According to the e-Contract, House Republicans also oppose Internet taxation, favor permanent research and development tax credits and support free trade. They like tax cuts that encourage capital formation and investment, they dislike "frivolous lawsuits that stifle economic growth" and they encourage private-sector innovation, creativity and competition.

Sometimes the most important thing lawmakers can do is make sure something doesn't happen, said Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The U.S. economy "has grown at a rate that can only be marveled at." An economy more heavily regulated by the government could not have matched its performance, the Louisiana Republican said.

But there is a place for government intervention, according to Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). Congress should ensure that the U.S. information technology industry receives adequate research and development funding, he said.

The government should also intervene to improve science education, Boehlert said. In recent science achievement tests, U.S. eighth-graders received only average scores among students tested worldwide. "That's not good enough" for U.S. technology industries to remain the world's best, he said.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, called for improvements in government computer systems so veterans no longer have to wait for years to receive benefits and divisions within the Defense Department can communicate with one another. Government agencies are wasting millions of dollars to keep archaic computer systems running, he said.

The e-Contract released June 20 is the House Republicans' third. In prior years they have supported legislation to encourage the use of digital signatures, increase the number of visas for foreign high-tech workers, move government paperwork online, increase trade with China and experiment with telecommuting.

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