As they sweep across the country campaigning on pocketbook issues, Al Gore and George W. Bush rarely mention information technology. But whoever is elected president will have to navigate the changing landscape that the technology revolution has brought to the federal government.Part of the next president's mandate will be to direct investments in technology for federal agencies. "The technology genie is out of the bottle, so either candidate will push aggressively in introducing technology into government," said Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University. "But they will do it in different ways reflecting their orientation."
How Gore and Bush would treat federal IT investment will be a matter of style, philosophy and experience.
Ever since he began pushing his National Partnership for Reinventing Government initiative in 1993, Gore has made his reputation as a techno-guru, despite his ill-fated claim that he had invented the Internet. Bush, as the governor of Texas, has taken credit for the state's high-tech boom.
But some federal IT experts say it is a toss-up over who would make a better high-tech president. "I'm sure it matters who is the next president as far as IT, but I'm not sure which candidate would be better," said Roger Baker, chief information officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Although he couldn't predict what either candidate would do for e-government, Baker said, "The biggest internal issue the next president will need to deal with is the dichotomy between our drive toward e-government and its focus on how customers view government."
A Hint of What's to Come
Although similarity is rarely seen on the campaign trail, there are some IT issues on which the candidates are in perfect harmony. Both want a permanent research and development tax credit to spur technology research. They agree that the federal government should deliver its services electronically by 2003. And both want to make sure that all government procurement moves online to ensure efficiency and savings.
There are differences, though. Gore would not appoint an IT czar to direct governmentwide IT investments; Bush would. Bush also says he would create a $100 million fund to support interagency e-government projects. Although neither candidate has said how much he would earmark for IT, both say they would spend what is necessary for information security.
With their eyes on the future, both candidates have plans for e-government. The Gore plan would create an online government auction site - called G-Bay - to sell used government equipment. And he would give private citizens digital certificates or electronic signatures to do business with the government online.
Bush's plan says that making government more "user- and citizen-friendly" is just the first step in e-government. He would make it possible for citizens to tailor government information to their interests and needs, much like a personalized newspaper or Web site.
Gore as Technologist
There are few other specifics with which to compare the candidates on an issue not at the top of the public's agenda. For example, both candidates have given lip service to protecting Web user privacy, but the details are yet to come from either camp.
It is Gore, not Bush - whose Republican Party traditionally has been the supporter of tough crime-fighting policies - who talks about using the Internet to fight crime. In a June speech, he suggested creating an interactive map showing crime sites to help police chart trends. He proposed having citizens use e-mail to alert local police departments of suspicious activities in their neighborhoods.
Gore would be the natural choice to win the technology debate. His record is clearly defined. Five years before they became popular, Gore was experimenting with Webcasts. Before most people even heard of handheld computers, Gore was using one. He takes credit for downsizing the federal government by 377,000 jobs, largely with the help of technology.
"The fact of the matter is Gore understands the technology, and he uses it, too. He [would be] as Internet-savvy a president as you could possibly imagine," said Robert Litan, who worked for the Clinton administration and now is vice president of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. Bush: Use IT to Shrink Government That is not to say Bush is a novice. But he has virtually acknowledged that although he is technologically conscious, he is no expert. He sees technology as a way to implement the conservative philosophy of less government, lower taxes and less intrusion in people's lives. Although he has not said how he would change government contracting, it is likely he would look to the private sector for more outsourcing.
W. Arthur Porter, dean of the College of Engineering at Oklahoma University and a former technology adviser to Bush in Texas, said Bush may not know the details, but he knows where to get the information when he needs it.
"He is a free-market guy," Porter said. "He believes in the private sector. My experience with him is very much government support rather than government lead."
Bush is Internet-savvy. When his twin daughters were deciding where to go to college, Bush and his family used the Internet to get information on colleges and universities. Like Gore, he uses e-mail to keep in touch with his family and staff.
The Real IT Decision-Makers
Some experts say the policies will be determined on the ground by career government professionals, not elected officials. "A lot of the work will be done by the people in place. The only difference [would be] if there are some strong new cabinet members who are computer literate and understand what it means to make government paperless," said Ronald Posner, chairman of NetCatalyst, a California-based venture capital firm that helps U.S. companies expand overseas.
"Whoever wins in November will bring [in] a new set of senior executives, and they have to be more accustomed to technology and the Internet and the Web than those who came in to government in the early 1990s," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division. "That will jump-start electronic government."
In 1876, no one asked which of the two presidential candidates would have a bigger impact on the development of the telephone. In 1920, no one asked which candidate would do more for the broadcast media. And in 2000, it may not mat-ter which candidate would affect federal IT policy more, said Philip Klink-ner, a government professor at Hamilton College in New York.
"Increasingly, government is playing catch-up in having to deal with issues and developments they didn't shape but are being shaped by thousands of individuals and companies," Klinkner said.