FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - It's the picture-perfect campaign stop, a mere few days into the third millennium: Bethany Covenant Church, a gray-clapboard and white-brick meeting house tucked into the woods off a two-lane highway in Bedford, New Hampshire. The church's tall, white steeple evokes Colonial New England. Inside, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona greets some 300 local citizens, many of whom in a few weeks will vote in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (and hand McCain a lopsided victory over Texas Gov. George W. Bush).
But make no mistake. Despite the old-world trappings, neither the candidate nor his prospective supporters dwell on the past. Taking a question about education policy from one of a group of schoolkids assembled before the TV cameras, McCain seizes the opportunity to talk about technology. "We've done a wonderful job wiring every school and library to the internet," McCain tells the audience. But that's only the first step to enabling everyone to share in the benefits of what even this conservative combat veteran, who touts "the unifying values" of traditional patriotism, calls the "information technology revolution." McCain isn't the only candidate taking IT to the campaign trail. Campaign 2000 marks the beginning of a new election era enabled, at least in part, by new economy ideals and dollars. For the first time in history, technology issues--and perceptions about which of the candidates is most technology savvy--have the potential to help decide a presidential election. Consequently, McCain and all the top contenders have cast their campaign nets wide to capture both technology mindshare and donations from the deep-pocketed movers and shakers of the IT industry. Along with the typical death-and-taxes issues, each of the major candidates is touting his IT savvy and experience in hopes of convincing voters that he is the best choice to steer the country into digital prosperity.
But perceptions of IT savvy may not be decisive for many voters, at least not yet--even among those who are most familiar with the issues. Out of nearly 200 senior executives--most of them CIOs--who responded to a Jan. 31 survey administered at CIO's Enterprise Value Retreat in Arizona, the largest percentage were decidedly unimpressed with the IT credentials of any of the candidates; 31 percent said that none of the candidates are knowledgeable about IT issues. Finishing second to "nobody" was Vice President Al Gore (24 percent), followed by Bush, Steve Forbes, McCain and former Sen. Bill Bradley.
When asked who they'd vote for if the election were held that day, respondents overwhelmingly favored Bush (42 percent), followed by McCain (21 percent), Gore (13 percent) and Bradley (12 percent).
Still, it's not surprising that reasonably well developed IT-related positions have begun to emerge from the campaigns (granted, in some cases, only once we had asked). After all, the extraordinary technology-driven economic and cultural changes that have occurred since the Clinton administration took office are unlikely to slow down over the coming years. Whether Republican, Democrat or Reform (OK, it's a long shot), the next president will preside over a Congress that is likely to enact landmark e-commerce legislation, and he will probably appoint one or more Supreme Court justices who may ultimately decide cases that settle the terms and conditions of e-business and data privacy.
"There's a whole range of internet-related issues that haven't reached legal maturity yet," says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a beltway-based IT trade association. "So, yes, there is a very good chance that the next president will have a huge impact on the Supreme Court and on these issues." It's a big change from eight years ago, when it was a major deal that Democratic candidates Clinton and Gore had their own e-mail addresses, much less a plan for wiring the country. Four years later, the duo was on the cutting-edge with its static website. Meanwhile, the main Republican opponents--George H.W. Bush in 1992, Bob Dole in '96--appeared just slightly more tech-friendly than your average unreconstructed Luddite.
This time around, of the candidates who entered the early caucuses and primaries, four can claim recent technology-related accomplishments. Gore, of course (his internet paternity claims aside), has spearheaded technology policy for the Clinton administration. McCain and Sen. Orrin Hatch (now long out of the race), as chairmen, respectively, of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, currently play key roles in writing the rules for e-commerce. And George W. Bush, as Texas governor, recently empaneled an e-government task force to determine the opportunities for delivering more state services online.
With the stakes clearly rising around a host of IT-related issues, CIO recently polled the field of candidates for their views. When it comes to e-commerce, e-government, privacy and security, the digital divide, telecommunications, encryption, trade and the technology workforce, what do these diverse presidential aspirants have to say? To some extent, their answers are the kinds of vague pronouncements typical of politicians trying not to hem themselves in. Nevertheless, as they seek electoral and financial support from IT vendors, business leaders and a general public that is only beginning to grasp the influence technology exerts on their lives, their positions offer clues as to how they'll approach the issues--and how important IT policies are to their overall platforms. In cases where a campaign failed to respond to our inquiries, we gathered what we could from the candidate's public statements or track record.
Although all but two of the contenders have given up the race since we reported this story, we decided not to do any last-minute pruning so that readers can get a full sense of the range of views expressed over the course of the primaries. As the campaign season progresses, we will continue to cover the role IT issues play in the race. For that coverage, please visit www.cio.com/forums/government.
FLEX TIME As the primary season winds down, election 2000 gives the high-tech industry an opportunity to flex some newly built muscle In past elections, technology power brokers have more or less dissed the political process, refraining from any substantial lobbying or politicking. But in the wake of such watersheds as the Microsoft antitrust suit, there is growing awareness that the high-tech industry can't ignore government and make it go away.
In fact, the Greater Washington, D.C., high-tech community recently banded together to form CapNet, a political action committee chartered solely to promote IT issues and tech-friendly politicians. Since its inception last July, CapNet has grown to more than 40 members, including such powerful technology vendors as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. "The technology community finally understands that it needs to engage the political process, and we expect to be very aggressive in the next election," says Timothy D. Hugo, CapNet's director.
In addition to weighing in on IT-centric legislative issues, Hugo says, CapNet will produce periodic scorecards on legislators' technology votes, and the group will endorse a slate of congressional candidates. "We will support candidates that support the technology companies' agenda," Hugo says.
Individually, high-tech companies have become avid donors to both major political parties. According to Public Disclosure, a Washington, D.C.-based company that republishes Federal Election Commission data on its FEC Info website, five top software and telecommunications companies have been among the 20 largest corporate contributors of so-called soft money to Democrats and Republicans in the 1999-2000 election cycle, with AT&T heading the list and Microsoft at number 11 as of late in 1999. In the 1995-1996 election cycle, AT&T ranked ninth and Microsoft ranked 359th in soft money contributions.
But will the technology community choose sides in the presidential race? This is where election talk gets interesting. Traditionally, big business leans Republican, and as Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, a D.C.-based IT trade association, points out, this is the first election where the big technology businesses have had Republican candidates who understand and represent their issues. Does it follow, then, that the high-tech community is most likely to fall in behind the Republican line? Not necessarily, Miller says. "High-tech companies are going to fall in behind smart lines," he says. "No one's going to bet the ranch on one [presidential] candidate or another because companies aren't going to want to be perceived as being in one party or the other." Instead, Miller foresees companies dividing their loyalties, for example, a high-profile CEO may support the Republicans, while an equally vocal COO endorses the Democrats--no doubt making for some interesting executive staff meetings. -E. Varon BILL BRADLEY E-COMMERCE Opposes internet taxation for now, but won't limit future options. On his campaign website, it says Bradley "supports the Commission on Electronic Commerce's efforts to develop a tax policy that encourages the astonishing growth of the internet and electronic commerce, but is fair to brick-and-mortar businesses and does not erode the state and local revenue stream." TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Favors open-market competition but does not rule out stepping in to mandate cable access for internet service providers.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Would invest $2 billion to improve the technology infrastructure of community colleges.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Advocates use of the internet to provide accessible, accurate health records but also supports patient data privacy protections. Supports efforts to limit children's access to internet pornography.
WORLD TRADE Calls Clinton administration's new encryption policy a "step in the right direction" but advocates using a "common sense policy" for export controls that balance security, civil liberties and e-commerce concerns.
WORKFORCE ISSUES While Bradley's website stresses "preparing Americans for opportunities in the high-tech sector," in the short run he supports a review of the H1-B visa program "to make it more efficient and responsive to industry needs"--including an increase in the current cap.
GEORGE W. BUSH E-COMMERCE Would ban internet taxation until 2004, then review impact of lost sales revenue on state and federal coffers. Supports creation of a permanent research and experimentation tax credit.
E-GOVERNMENT Supports efforts to make more government services available electronically to citizens.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Supports 1996 Telecommunications Act; favors consumer choice and open-market competition for cable TV and broadband services.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Would invest federal dollars in public schools, community centers and nonprofit groups to put technology tools and training in the hands of the have-nots.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Wants to see private industry attempt self-regulation before government steps in.
WORLD TRADE Favors relaxation of encryption export controls; supports ascension of both China and Taiwan to WTO.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Supports raising quota of H-1B visas for high-tech foreign workers from 115,000 annually to 200,000.
ALBERT GORE JR. E-COMMERCE Supports extending current moratorium on internet taxation pending outcome of report by the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce. Says he is "committed to finding a solution that will allow e-commerce to flourish but will not strip states and localities of the revenue they need to educate children and fight crime." Would make R&D tax credit permanent, with special provisions to help small businesses.
E-GOVERNMENT Would continue "Reinventing Government" program to reduce the size of government, cut red tape and put services online. Would also double the investment in IT research over the next five years.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Supports the "Next Generation Internet" research program to increase the speed of the internet by 1,000 times. Says he would promote "development of the internet's potential" but does not offer examples of specific policies.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Would finish wiring classrooms and libraries to the internet and target education and training funds, tax incentives for technology training and government bonds for wiring communities. Would make household internet access as common as telephone access.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Advocates "Electronic Bill of Rights" to protect consumer privacy, including the right to choose whether personal information is disclosed, to know how and when the information is used and to see it and verify its accuracy.
WORLD TRADE Backs new administration policy allowing commercial encryption of any key length to be exported after a one-time government review to determine that the product could not be altered by users. Supports duty-free internet trade; would press other countries to forgo trade rules that might impede e-commerce.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Would consider revisiting whether to increase the number of H-1B visas. Would focus, however, on retraining American workers for high-tech jobs, improving college high-tech programs, encouraging women and minorities to pursue high-tech careers and improving K-12 math and science education.
JOHN MCCAIN E-COMMERCE Would ban taxation of internet transactions. Would make R&D tax credit permanent.
E-GOVERNMENT Would tell agencies to make services available online and request funding for this but sees no need for a comprehensive plan.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Thinks Telecommunications Act of 1996 fails to promote competition and would "scrap" it. Would ease regulation to encourage deployment of broadband networks.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Wiring classrooms to the internet is "the first step." Would create opportunities for low-income people to get high-tech jobs by expanding local control over federal grant funds, encouraging military personnel to become teachers upon retirement and authorizing school vouchers for low-income students (see also "Workforce Issues," right).
PRIVACY/SECURITY Opposes any requirement that software manufacturers provide law enforcement with access to software keys to decode encrypted messages.
Supports self-regulation of businesses to protect consumer privacy, but believes government has oversight role.
WORLD TRADE Would allow export of any 64-bit encryption products and of stronger encryption in some circumstances. Supports duty-free internet trade.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Would eliminate cap on H-1B visas for technical workers through 2006 while giving job training funds to states, money to train math and science teachers, and grants to improve tech skills of schoolchildren.
GARY BAUER (Bauer's campaign did not respond to CIO queries) PRIVACY/SECURITY (from policy statement) Doesn't want government peeking at citizens' private financial or health data. No thoughts, though, on how he'd regulate businesses from doing the same.
WORLD TRADE (from policy statement) Would deny China Most Favored Nation status and block its membership in the World Trade Organization until Chinese human rights policies change.
PAT BUCHANAN (did not respond to CIO queries) WORLD TRADE (from policy statement) Opposes China's entry in the World Trade Organization. Also advocates withdrawal "from international organizations [meaning the WTO and the UN] that imperil our financial stability and economic independence." Would "open foreign markets to American products by requiring reciprocal trade policies." WORKFORCE ISSUES (from policy statement) Wants to curb current immigration regulations and preserve U.S. jobs for U.S. citizens.
STEVE FORBES E-COMMERCE Would maintain permanent ban on internet taxation.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Would accelerate telecom deregulation; would repeal the "Gore Tax" on long-distance phone service and the 3 percent federal excise tax on telecommunications.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Would allow parents to choose which schools their children attend.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Would block any efforts to require national health ID cards and would shut down any federal medical database containing information "Washington does not need and has no constitutional right to have." WORLD TRADE Would welcome Taiwan into WTO ahead of China.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Increase quota of H-1B visas for high-tech foreign workers.
ORRIN HATCH E-COMMERCE Opposes taxation of internet transactions. Sponsored law protecting copyright of works published online. Would curb cybersquatting.
Would make R&D tax credit permanent.
E-GOVERNMENT Believes government agencies should deliver services online. Would advocate policies to encourage technological innovation but did not offer specific proposals.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Enforcement of antitrust laws will ensure competition for broadband services as the telecommunications industry is deregulated.
Supports Telecommunications Act, but says it may need to be revisited if changes in the industry jeopardize competition and deregulation.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Wants publishers to have incentives and adequate copyright protections so that they will provide digital educational materials to teachers and students in distance-learning programs. Supports efforts to make internet access more widely available.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Supports self-regulation of businesses to protect consumer privacy, with government oversight, possibly modeled on securities industry.
WORLD TRADE Supports making it easier for software companies to export encryption products. Supports duty-free internet trade. Would negotiate to eliminate other barriers to trade, including "arbitrary" technical standards, limits on market access to network, information service and content providers.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Has introduced a bill in Congress raising the annual cap on H-1B visas to 195,000, but believes the high-tech industry's long-term needs should be addressed by improving the domestic educational system. Supports retraining opportunities for dislocated workers.
ALAN KEYES E-COMMERCE Would consider internet taxation as part of his plan to replace income tax with national sales tax, but only after an appropriate moratorium to make sure e-commerce is firmly established. Otherwise opposes government regulation of the marketplace. Against taxes on internet access.
E-GOVERNMENT Supports use of technology to deliver services online "to the fullest extent possible." TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY Favors less regulation of industry than current law allows. Government should not interfere with consolidation of industry and technology convergence.
DIGITAL DIVIDE Believes government intervention is unnecessary to deliver internet access to low-income people, because the computer industry is offering deals to attract new customers.
PRIVACY/SECURITY Supports self-regulation by companies to protect consumer privacy. Wants to maintain existing "constitutional protections" for individuals against access by government to personal information.
WORLD TRADE Thinks restrictions on export of encryption should not be relaxed to protect national security. Government should "stop giving away" access to the U.S. market to countries that don't open their own markets. Would immediately withdraw from the World Trade Organization.
WORKFORCE ISSUES Would expand cap on H-1B visas yearly based on needs of industry.
TECH TALKS Presidential hopefuls may not know the CIO audience, but when vendor luminaries call, they listen It isn't easy getting through to the presidential candidates.
CIO Senior Writer Elana Varon and I spent more than a month trying to pin down each of the 10 major contenders for just 15 or 20 minutes each--time enough just to get their thoughts on the half-dozen or so top IT-related campaign issues. Granted, time is precious on the campaign trail, but for the opportunity to have access to an audience of tens of thousands of Fortune 500 business executives? We thought the campaign staffs would fall over one another lining up their candidates outside our door.
We were wrong. E-mails, faxes, phone calls--all of our personal pleas were virtually ignored by most of the campaign staffs, which frankly had more interest in talking to a 20,000-circulation New Hampshire daily, the Portsmouth Herald. What does CIO stand for, anyway? As the deadline neared, I expressed my frustration to CIO publisher Gary Beach, who remarked casually that he had some contacts in the Bush campaign. He gave me two e-mail addresses, which I won't reveal here, but trust me, they were biggies--top executives of brand-name technology vendors. Names you definitely know.
So, I e-mailed each of these gentlemen, dropping Gary's name and asking if they could help patch a line between CIO and the Bush office. Within two hours, I not only had a positive response from one of these executives; I also had him introducing me to a top Bush campaign staffer via a cc'd e-mail that said essentially, "This is a magazine you guys should be talking to." By the end of the day, I had an e-mail from the Bush staffer asking, "How can we help you?" Moral of the story: The presidential candidates may not know how to reach the tech audience, but they sure have learned to listen to the right vendors. -T. Field.