Va.'s Gilmore may be just the ticket for Bush

Stephen M. Ryan

The Washington area has become a hot spot in the high-tech world. Although that includes the Maryland suburbs, it is doings in the politics of Virginia that could affect the lives of federal information technology workers.

The amount of venture capital being invested in companies in the area has grown dramatically. The federal government is the engine ultimately driving this phenomenon, albeit inadvertently. The government, to fill its burgeoning IT and communications requirements, created the nucleus of a high-technology work force. This force of federal and contractor employees at one time was devoted to the Defense Department and civilian agencies.

As traditional defense companies' stocks suffer, dot-coms and telecommunications businesses have made towering building cranes a ubiquitous sight on nearly every parcel of land between Dulles International Airport and the Capital Beltway.

Now, aggressive national venture money with a local flavor'from companies such as Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. of Arlington, Va., and the East Coast Draper Atlantic unit of Draper Fisher Jurveston of Redwood City, Calif.'is pushing new companies and stock offerings locally.

The pace of new companies and the fortunes they often spawn have lured a steady stream of federal IT managers into leaving government. Nearly all IT companies doing business in the region are thriving, and the established ones are tugging on the very feds who have been working hard at electronically reinventing government.

As George W. Bush evaluates potential Republican running mates, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore is believed to be on the short list because of his tech-savvy administration and popular car-tax cut. It was Gilmore's hard work for Bush that finally stopped the upstart campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain. The Bush nomination may in retrospect appear to have been foreordained, but a loss in Virginia to McCain would have crippled, if not ended, Bush's presidential hopes.

Virginia limits governors to a single four-year term. That will leave Gilmore out of a job at the end of 2001.

The upshot? Under a Bush presidency, it's highly possible that there would be a Vice President Gilmore, Attorney General Gilmore or Commerce Secretary Gilmore. Thus, agencies are looking at the possibility of another activist, IT-oriented vice president.

Here's a little background. Behind every prominent office holder is an effective staff. In this case, Donald W. Upson has done much to help position Gilmore.

Upson is secretary of Technology for Virginia, the first state to have such an office. The post has enabled Gilmore, with Upson's help, to expand Virginia's already blossoming technology community.

Upson's staff assisted Gilmore's efforts on the Internet Tax Commission, where Gilmore clashed with Utah's Republican governor, Mike Leavitt, over taxing commerce on the Internet. Gilmore opposes such a tax, and Upson and Gilmore pushed the first package of state legislation intended to create a tech-friendly legal climate.

Upson previously served as the Republican staff director of the House Government Operations Committee.

He was an early proponent of the Competition in Contracting Act, reforms in the General Services Administration's Multiple-Award Schedule program and other innovations.

After leaving Capitol Hill, Upson was a vice president at systems integrator Litton PRC until he was tapped by Gilmore to enter Virginia government in 1998.

From his political post, Upson has been a cheerleader for Virginia's fast-paced expansion. Gilmore and Upson have incorporated several federal-style changes into Virginia's procurement practices.

Upson and Gilmore maintain strong ties to IT companies. Upson recently presided at the World Internet Conference at George Mason University. Among the executives recruited to speak were Dell Computer Corp. chairman Michael Dell; William Schrader, chairman of PSINet Inc. of Herndon, Va.; and Scott Cook, founder of Intuit Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

Even Washington's rush hour couldn't stop Gilmore's five-bus motorcade from sweeping through to a congressional briefing.

Stephen M. Ryan is a partner in the Washington law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips. He has long experience in federal information technology issues. E-mail him at [email protected].


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