Tech's promise

IT association makes most of stimulus opportunity

To date, only a dozen or so technology industry executives have met with President Barack Obama at the White House, and it is too early to know who might become influential voices. A promising prospect is Dean Garfield, an attorney and lobbyist who became president of the Information Technology Industry Council in December 2008.

Garfield accompanied a group of chief executives to the White House Jan. 28 to discuss the economic stimulus package. Seven of the CEOs are members of the industry council, he said.

Garfield recently returned to Washington from California, where he was vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. He also had been a lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America. His wife, Chandra Tuck-Garfield, is a former aide to Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and former assistant director of the Commerce Department’s Minority Telecommunications Development Program. 

He recently spoke with Washington Technology reporter Alice Lipowicz. 

Q: How do you view the role of the IT industry in the new administration? 

Garfield: IT has a major role to play in turning around the economy. [ITIC] wants to be a resource in addressing the nation’s most challenging problems. The goal is do things differently, do things smarter, and to be thought leaders on critical issues. That means raising questions and providing answers. 

Q: Tell me about what the council’s IT advocacy. 

Garfield: We have about 36 people here, and we have added one or two. We also have the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Most of our people are registered lobbyists. I mostly provide guidance.

We have as members from 43 of the largest global IT companies. Many of them are government contractors. All of them are aggressively pursuing every available market. 

Q: Do your members support the stimulus plan? 

Garfield: Very much so. They are interested in the broadband, health IT, energy and environmental provisions, the smart grid, and research and development. There needs to be support for research and development in order to get greater innovation. Innovation brings creative jobs and new economies. 

Q: Your foundation recently did a study that forecast 500,000 jobs resulting from a $10 billion broadband investment. 

Garfield: We met with Obama’s economic team, and we had a number of meetings with the transition team. They raised questions, and the foundation developed the study. We had a list of six priorities, and five are in the stimulus package.

Broadband is as stimulative as anything else. If you are laying fiber or setting up a wireless network, someone is going to do that work. Then you get businesses created and online services.

We were not successful on repatriation, which would have brought in $40 billion in tax revenues and would have helped to stimulate the economy. 

Q: What do your members think of the Buy America clause? 

Garfield: The compromise on Buy America is not perfect, but it is likely workable. In an ideal world, the companies would like to make their own determinations of where to buy. You have to be careful about protectionism. 

Q: Obama was elected partly in the spirit of hope for being the first African-American president. Does that influence your role? 

Garfield: To some degree, it does. The expectations now are different from any time previously in our history. The hope is that people won’t second guess my role [based on race]. 

Q: You have met with Obama a few times. What is your sense of his views and Congress’ views on technology? 

Garfield: I have a strong sense of his understanding and belief in the power of technology. 

We have a strong confluence of priorities with the administration. As for Congress, I’m optimistic. There is still some education we have to do.

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