Where they stand on IT

Information technology has not been a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, but IT policy will be an important issue facing the next president when he ' or she ' takes office in January 2009, a panel of advisors said Wednesday.

'2007 was not a great year' for IT, said Thomas Kalil, an adviser on technology innovation during the Clinton administration. A research tax credit has lapsed, immigration reform to attract and retain foreign high-tech workers died and federal research funding has stagnated. 'We can and must do better than this.'

Advisers to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, speaking at the State of the Net conference hosted by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, outlined their differing opinions on the government's role in promoting, regulating and policing IT.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has issued a technology innovation plan embracing IT as an enabler for efficient government and for solving major challenges facing the nation, including health care, climate change, energy policy and the economy, said Obama campaign adviser Julius Genachowski. The senator also has called for establishing the position of national chief technology officer.

'If we don't get technology policy right in the next administration, we won't make the progress we need,' Genachowski said.

Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) views IT as an important sector of the U.S. economy. His technology focus is on making U.S. IT competitive in the global market, encouraging business growth and spending on research and development through tax cuts, said Doug Holtz-Eakin, policy director for the McCain campaign.

McCain's top priority in immigration reform is the security of the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than reforming rules for foreign workers.

GOP contender Rudy Giuliani ' who was expected to drop out of the presidential race after a lackluster third-place finish in the Florida primary by the time his technical policy adviser, Jules Polonetsky, spoke Wednesday morning ' was a law-and-order mayor who would take that approach to technology, according to Polonetsky. Giuliani's focus on IT would be to clean up the Internet the way he cleaned up New York City, focusing on enforcement.

Although Kalil was an adviser to President Clinton, he spoke Wednesday as a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress rather than for the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). He said that the U.S. economy cannot compete in the world market on price and will need to maintain its leadership as a technology innovator to ensure economic growth. Research and development must have a high priority in government to achieve this. Technological innovation also is necessary to enable the country to meet its other social, political and economic challenges.

'It is the private sector that ultimately is responsible' for these advances, Kalil said, but government leadership is needed. He pointed out that that the Internet, the Web browser and the integrated circuit chip industry initially were created through government programs.

In a swipe at President Bush, whom he did not call by name, Kalil called for 'restoring integrity to U.S. science policy,' with policy decisions based on facts rather than bias.

Polonetsky and Holtz-Eakin generally advocated a hands-off approach to technology development, encouraging private-sector research and innovation through economic incentives, and encouraging industry self-regulation.

Genachowski spoke of the need for government to invest in and encourage development of technology that does not necessarily have an immediate market. He pointed to the success of In-Q-Tel in encouraging commercial products with promise for the intelligence community. He said the model could be used elsewhere.

'We need to do something like that for clean energy,' he said. 'The technology revolution has come to all segments of the economy and it hasn't come to our government.'

The advisers agreed that technology issues are unlikely to sway voters in the campaign, but said technology ultimately will play an important part in solving the problems voters are interested in. Polonetsky said that technology is more likely to be a generational issue, with younger voters asking, 'does this candidate get what my life is about?'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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