Autobahn or speed trap?

The Information Highway is about to get a few more HOV lanes.

Thanks to the tanking U.S. economy, which is reeling from some decidedly 20th-century financial fiascoes and no small amount of Wall Street hubris, the tech sector is being put back in the driver’s seat in President Barack Obama’s vision for recovery.

As staff writer Alice Lipowicz outlines in this week’s cover story, the stimulus package now moving through Congress is chock full of money for gadgets, gizmos and virtual remedies for the sorry state of affairs we’re in. Health information technology, green IT, rural IT, cyber IT — you name it, it’s got it, in spades. The technology-related ideas alone add to nearly $100 billion in the $900 billion bill.

And this caravan is moving fast. Obama is expecting a bill on his desk before he completes his first month in office. That means, of course, there is little or no time for gray-area policy debates and careful drafting of the specific mandates to the federal agencies and state governments that will be spending this newfound pot of gold. In the health IT section, for instance, lawmakers have included provisions to protect patient privacy rights — the sticking point that has stymied this initiative since former President George W. Bush began pushing it earlier in this decade.

Will the patient privacy provisions survive? Watch that story evolve.

State and local governments also hope for a big cash infusion from the stimulus bill. Goodness knows they need it. Their revenues have been shrinking for a few years now after a period of rather flush times. Contributor Alan Joch filed a special report on how state and local governments are coping with the sharply diminishing funds for homeland security initiatives. Their collaborative ingenuity makes you wonder whether more money is really the answer.

Obama’s presidential emphasis on new-wave technology has certainly put a hop in the step of the IT community in Washington. But columnist Frank McDonough wonders whether the new president will put his weight behind the e-government programs that have already gotten off the ground in the Bush years. Remarkably, he notes, all 24 of the e-government initiatives kick-started by the Office of Management and Budget are still in business, despite little congressional notice or support.

The last high-tech bubble of the 1990s offered lots of promise and possibilities but little lasting payoff to the fortunes of progress in America. (No wonder the fats cats turned to subprime mortgages.) Now the U.S. government is about to pump billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars into roads, bridges and digits. Let’s all hope we’re smarter this time around.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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