THE BELTWAY AND BEYOND

Which candidates have the most IT promise?

Stephen M. Ryan

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, but three of the four major-party presidential and vice presidential candidates have extensive experience with federal information technology contracting and procurement. How will their experiences affect their governing style?

Let's start with the would-be veeps.

Former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney has the most substantial contracting experience. True, the DOD secretary is not a contracting officer and delegates much responsibility to the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition. But Cheney made tough choices in killing a major procurement, the Navy A-12 fighter. That termination for default was subsequently reversed in court into a termination for convenience'with hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the distinction.

Cheney's leadership of the government's largest and most sophisticated procurement agency, coupled with his leadership of a large oil company, gives him executive experience of a type that few recent presidents could boast.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) rose to ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and is a key member of the Armed Services Committee. Members who serve on Governmental Affairs inevitably learn about the contracting process since they oversee large portions of contracting law and government organization. The Armed Services Committee also steeps member senators in programs and procurements.

As for those topping their tickets, Al Gore served on the Armed Services Committee before becoming vice president. He knows program and procurement matters.

Gore might have the most profound understanding of any potential world leader of how technology is changing business and the world.

Gov. George W. Bush, as head of a large executive branch, has been required to understand the Texas procurement system but is the least experienced in the details of federal programs and procurements.

Bush's Texas is home to a large community of IT companies, and he has spent substantial time competing with Gore for the attention of the IT industry.

One thing is certain. The vendor community is making itself heard this election. Both conventions were heavily sponsored by IT companies. At both gatherings, IT companies were among the biggest spenders, showing just how bipartisan they can be. Telecommunications companies, which are highly regulated, were uniformly among the high spenders.

At the Democratic convention some of the best-attended events were those bringing IT executives together with lawmakers. Amidst all of the parties, Democrats held several seminars on IT issues. For example, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and House members such as Jim Moran (Va.) and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley, mixed with CEOs.

Some bigwigs were Democrats of long standing, such as Bernard Schwartz, chairman of Loral Space and Communications Ltd. of New York. He pointedly reminded the centrist Democratic Leadership Council that the traditional manufacturing economy remains important. Issues such as foreign worker visa approval and education were also heavily addressed at the gatherings.

Other events, such as a party at the Garden of Eden in Hollywood saw a crew of technology types rocking late into the night.

In the mix

Serial entrepreneurs who give their pedigrees in terms of companies founded mixed with political types who give their pedigrees in lists of failed and successful campaigns. At 45, I was at the borderline of age acceptability.

As they say in Louisiana, 'A lot of bidness was done.' Some companies supported specific causes. Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., and its partner VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., together with Unisys Corp. sponsored an event for the 130 ambassadors from other countries who attended the convention.

And the overwhelming image of this convention, unlike the others before it, was of cell phones sticking out of everyone's ears in constant use.

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 SRyan@Manatt.com.

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