High-Tech Issues Help Unify Divided Congress

High-Tech Issues Help Unify Divided Congress

Rep. Jim Moran

By Nick Wakeman, Senior Editor

With the makeup of Congress so evenly divided that no ruling majority exists, few spending proposals and initiatives are expected to have smooth sailing through the legislative process.

But proposals dealing with information technology probably have a better shot than most of finding support on both sides of the aisle to win passage.

"Most technology issues have broad bipartisan support," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. Davis' district is just outside of Washington and is home to many IT companies and their employees.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., agreed. "Most of the money for things like cybersecurity and information assurance come from the defense subcommittees, and they are the least partisan," said Moran, whose district neighbors Davis'.

Davis and Moran appeared together Nov. 9 at a meeting of the Industry Advisory Council, a part of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils, which is a group of government IT professionals and their counterparts in the private sector.

The confusion over the presidential election has caused delays in planning for the transition to a new administration.

While unfortunate, the delay does create an opportunity for Congress and the information technology community, Davis said.

"Technology and procurement issues are not a high priority [in the transition], so Congress can drive that agenda," Davis said.

Educating other members of Congress is a priority, Moran said.

"We need to get to members who have a vested interest in technology in their districts and get them more involved and get them up to speed," he said.

Moran said his agenda will include stopping new regulations that would give contracting officers the power to prevent a company from bidding on contracts if it has violated tax, employment, environmental, antitrust or consumer protection laws.

The IT and other industries oppose the new directives, known as the Blacklisting Regulations, because they say the rules deny companies due process and will not be consistently applied. Moreover, they contend that other rules already are in place to punish bad actors.

While Republicans oppose the regulations, Moran said he is battling fellow Democrats on the issue.

Moran said he also supports a provision that would add an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act so that companies are no longer required to share information with the government about security breaches and hacker attacks.

Under current law, this information can become public through a FOIA request. Companies are leery of giving that information to the government because they fear that it could lead to the release of trade secrets and other proprietary information, Moran said.

"Cybersecurity is one of our greatest threats, so we need the exemption," he said.

The new year also will bring a change in the House leadership. When the GOP took control of the House in 1994, it placed term limits on the chairmanships of the committees.

"There will be new faces and new people," said Randolph Dove, executive director of government relations for Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas.

Industry groups such as the Information Technology Association of America, the Computer Technology Industry Association and the Computer and Communications Industry Association will be lobbying for legislative action in such areas as a permanent tax credit for research and development, tax credits for IT training, privacy, international trade and intellectual property.

The leadership on committees such as the Ways and Means, Commerce and Appropriations will have a large impact on how these issues more forward, said Edward Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Association of Washington, which represents senior executives among a broad range of computer and communications companies.

The makeup of the political appointees brought in by the new administration also will have a significant affect, said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president at ITAA in Arlington, Va.

"I think we are going to see electronic government really blossom no matter who is president," she said. "The new appointees are going to be coming in from the Internet age."

Many of Clinton's appointees have been in office for eight years, which means their tenure predates the Internet boom. Many of them only use computers to send e-mail, she said.

But new appointees will arrive with higher expectations of the kinds of information and services they want through the Internet, she said.

With state and local governments ahead of the federal government on electronic government projects, citizen expectations also are on the rise, Grkavac said.

"I think we'll see both top-down pressure [coming from the new appointees] and bottom-up pressure [coming from the citizens]," she said.

But bipartisanship will be the key to getting anything accomplished. Davis said the makeup of Congress and a president with less than 50 percent of the popular vote will either mean gridlock or a new way of governing.

"The smart leaders [of both parties] are going to be the ones that sit down together and figure out what they agree on," he said. "That is not how Capitol Hill normally operates."

Dove agreed. "It'll be an interesting year for all of us," he said.

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