Highway 1 on the Road to Success
An industry-backed organization is spearheading an effort to introduce government leaders to new technologies
As the 104th Congress debated telecommunications and other important issues in public, many members were getting a lesson in new technologies in private. Lawmakers in increasing numbers tapped information technologies to streamline their operations, get their messages out to the public and solicit citizen feedback.
In the past year, the number of U.S. legislators with World Wide Web sites jumped dramatically. Eighty senators and 170 members of the House of Representatives now have a home on the information superhighway. One year ago, the corresponding numbers were 33 and 49.
And more lawmakers now have e-mail addresses, according to Highway 1, an industry-backed organization spearheading an effort to introduce government leaders to new technologies.
This trend can be traced to several developments, congressional sources say. For example, many congressional offices now have computer systems specialists who are anxious to use new technology, one staffer said. The 1994 elections saw an influx of many new lawmakers who had already been dependent on e-mail, another staffer said. What's more, members of Congress are feeling pressure from the national media to keep up with the latest technologies, he added.
"We [also] take some credit for that [growth]," said Kimberly Jenkins, executive director of Highway 1. Much of the progress has, in fact, occurred since the non-partisan, non-profit organization in Washington set up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in May 1995. Highway 1 provides hands-on guidance to individuals and arranges group seminars at its media center, which includes a model high-tech congressional office. Techniques can be applied to serving constituents -- as well as campaigning.
Pro-technology White House
Jenkins credits the Clinton administration for the surge in official Washington's interest in new technologies. Recent legislation mandates that each federal agency have a chief information officer. Last month, Highway 1 hosted intranet workshops sponsored by Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review.
But much of the activity has been on Capitol Hill. In March, a non-partisan group of legislators led by Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., formed the Internet Caucus, along with Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Sens. Larry Pressler, R-S.D, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
White started the caucus after working on the telecommunications bill. White, a member of the House Commerce Committee who also served on the conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers that hammered out a compromise measure, had argued against certain provisions dealing with indecency on the Internet but ultimately lost that fight. He attributed that loss to the fact that many lawmakers were unfamiliar with the technology since they did not have it or use it.
There are now 20 members of the caucus who are obligated to set up a Web site or e-mail within 90 days of joining the group. Members of the caucus sponsor forums and encourage their colleagues to use technology. "One of the best events we did was a day-long technology demonstration in June with Highway 1, said Connie Correll, White's press secretary.
"There is great synergy between us. We work very closely and very well together," said Marcus Cannady, Highway 1's director of technology.
Jenkins said Highway 1 was born out of a conversation she had with Sen. Bob Kerry, D-Neb. "Although he is very technology savvy, he saw that a number of his colleagues weren't" and urged her to set up a center, she said. Kerry joined the organization's advisory panel, along with 20 leaders from higher education and industry.
Jenkins traveled across the country last January soliciting support for Highway 1. Apple, AT&T, IBM, Novell and Quantum signed on as founding members.
Industry Backs Effort
Since then, Adobe Systems, Microsoft, Claris, Lotus, SunSoft and Eastman Kodak have come on board as technology partners, agreeing to participate in the effort for at least five years. These firms and the founding members provide funding for the project, which costs about $1 million a year, said Jenkins, formerly a director of Microsoft's education division. Other contributors include Network MCI and Bay Networks, which provide hardware and other assistance. Lawmakers and others are not charged for Highway 1's services.
The organization seeks to attract new technology partners to fill in gaps in such areas as database and intranet technologies.
"This is not a lobbying effort [or] a sales effort," Jenkins stresses. The companies "do get nice product exposure here, but they bought into the big picture of helping to enlighten members of Congress and other government leaders because [the companies] know that the more first-hand exposure to technology [that officials have] the better they will be when it comes to actually legislating about it," she said.
The companies "also believe in the idea of communication between the government and the public," she said.
"We look at it as a prime opportunity to educate customers" in the company's leading-edge digital imaging technologies, said Gene Jackson, director of imaging systems at Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y. "This relationship with Highway 1 [also] underlines Kodak's commitment to support public officials in their efforts to deliver enhanced service to the citizen," he said.
The work with Highway 1 also provides Kodak with an "excellent opportunity to collaborate with leading [technology] companies to form solutions," he said, adding that these joint efforts could be stepping stones to cooperative ventures in the future.
Kodak has already conducted sessions at Highway 1 for officials from the Department of Defense and the State Department. "Kodak showed them how digital photography could be used to instantaneously transmit scenes from around the world," said Jenkins.
Education and Exposure Are the Key
Highway 1 is filling a much-needed role, Jenkins said. In addition to arranging briefings, the organization helps frame big-picture issues. In September, for example, the organization will brief senior Federal Trade Commission members who are interested in electronic commerce. "They have a particular interest in how consumers will be protected when they start to conduct transactions over the Internet," she noted.
Highway 1 refrains from taking positions on politically sensitive issues such as privacy and encryption. In such cases, Cannady said, the organization tries to provide information about the type of technology that's available and explain how encryption is used. Said Jenkins: "We might bring in people with different opinions to have the dialogue."
For the 1996 election campaigns, Highway 1 is lending its expertise in two ways, helping campaign committees see the advantages of technologies and elements of good Web sites. "It's not just a matter of slapping something up there but providing really valuable information to the voters," she explained. "It's engaging them... not with just great technology but with the personality of the candidate."
Candidates are using their sites to recruit volunteers, solicit funding, and collect data and opinions about site visitors, she said.
Highway 1 has also crafted a Web site, offering access to the sites of a host of candidates at the federal, state and local levels. "It is one of the most current sites -- continually updated -- you can find out the status of a race and about the candidates themselves," said Jenkins.
According to Jenkins, the seeds of a technological revolution are being sown in two ways: letting government talk to the people -- and letting the people talk to their government.
But the technology only works if both parties use it. As individuals struggle on their own with software, servers and browsers, official Washington is making great strides with the support of the administration and organizations like Highway 1.
"We evangelize and are really trying to get people to use the technology," Jenkins said.
Highway 1: http://www.highway1.org
Metropolitan Fiber Systems
Pamet River Partners