Split ticket on IT issues

Small differences emerge in Bush, Kerry tech plans

Back in May, tech leaders such as John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems Inc., and Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Inc., threw their support behind George W. Bush.

John Kerry has industry backing of his own, including that of Apple Computer Inc.'s Steve Jobs, plus a slight edge in campaign donations from computer and Internet companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

Unlike government IT contractors, who strongly favor President Bush, the overall technology industry doesn't have an overwhelming favorite in the coming presidential election.

According to Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., the sector's presidential preferences are based largely on social and economic issues, not on the group's prospects under a particular administration.

"Where you stand depends on where you live," Miller said.

Neither presidential candidate has staked out distinct, compelling positions on the technology issues that matter most to industry, said analysts monitoring the race.

"Technology is kind of a softball. If you ask people, they'll say they're all for it," said James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "In the 2000 election, you had to drive a wedge between your opponent and the tech industry. But the tech industry isn't as sexy as it was."

Bush and Kerry have similar positions on several technology issues, including universal broadband, additional spectrum for wireless applications and tighter cybersecurity. But that doesn't mean the two potential administrations would approach IT in the same way.

"If Bush's emphasis has been more on information technology to support government operations, you might see more emphasis with Kerry on investment in research and development," said Jim Kane, president and chief executive officer of the Software Productivity Consortium in Herndon, Va.

Kerry has made innovation a central part of his technology platform. In a speech in Silicon Valley last June, Kerry vowed to increase investments in areas such as nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing. "And because we do not know where the next great breakthrough will come from, I will support the curiosity-driven, high-risk research that has given us such 'accidental' discoveries as the MRI," he said.

The Bush administration points out that research and development funding has risen 44 percent since 2001, including a doubling of funds allotted to nanotechnology research.

Even so, the administration's critics point out, the fiscal 2005 budget proposal calls for widespread cuts across most agencies, including a 5 percent drop in funding for the National Science Foundation.

Experts say homeland security will remain fertile ground for advanced technology initiatives, regardless of the November election's outcome; but Kerry's criticism of the current administration's efforts to secure ports leaves open the door to increased use of radio frequency identification under a Kerry administration.

According to the Kerry campaign, only 5 percent of shipping containers entering the country are inspected.

"If Kerry is elected and he finds the money somewhere, he could make port security a priority and that could open up additional IT spending to implement RFID on a broader basis," ITAA's Miller said.

Tighter port security "is mainly a research question in that there are technologies that would let you greatly expand monitoring of ships and containers," according to CSIS' Lewis. "If we waited a few years we could probably do it for less money, but if we wanted to do it now, we could do it."

In addition to port security, the next president will have other IT challenges at the Homeland Security Department that require attention.

A September report from the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank in Washington, pointed out that the government still hasn't integrated a dozen terrorist watch lists spanning nine agencies. According to Robert Atkinson, vice president of the institute, the integration effort could be accomplished in only a few months.

The next president is also likely to make his mark by pushing toward completing the Homeland Security Information Network, which might eventually resemble the Defense Department's Global Information Grid, Lewis said. In all cases, integrators would be called on for IT solutions.

E-government is another important IT opportunity that will require fresh focus, regardless of election results.

The Progressive Policy Institute report said the United States has lost its leadership position in e-government use, and according to the Office of Budget and Management, only five federal agencies have met the criteria for successful e-government implementation.

Neither campaign has forged much new e-government policy, but experts said their respective programs would differ, if only in principle.

"If Bush is re-elected you won't see too many changes, but if Kerry is elected you'll at least get new wine in old bottles," Miller said.

The two campaigns take different approaches to cybersecurity, according to experts. The Bush administration, they said, clearly sees it as a subordinate function of homeland security, a sticking point that analysts said caused Amit Yoran, head of DHS' National Cyber Security Division, to resign abruptly last month.

"Either candidate has to elevate that position," Miller said. "It just doesn't make sense to have it four levels down within DHS."

The main obstacle facing the next president is how to pay for new IT initiatives. Kerry plans to fund several of his technology initiatives with money raised from auctioning spectrum that is freed when television stations transition to digital delivery.

But the most recent legislation doesn't require stations to give up their spectrum until the end of 2008.

"The deficit isn't suddenly going to go away," Miller said. "That's going to impact all sorts of government spending, including IT spending." n

Brad Grimes is assistant managing editor for technology at Government Computer News. He can be reached at bgrimes@postnewsweektech.com.

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