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All the president's IT men
(IDG) -- Pop quiz: Which candidate said what about the new economy?
A."Every child in America - regardless of income, geography, race or disability - should be able to reach across a computer keyboard and reach the vast new worlds of knowledge, commerce and communication that are available at the touch of a fingertip."
B."Technology has brought so many opportunities into our lives. Now we must make sure that these opportunities are shared as widely as possible so that everyone can gain and everyone can contribute."
If you're having trouble answering, it's not because you haven't been paying attention. When it comes to IT policy, George W. Bush and Al Gore are reading from the same playbook. Though the two diverge on many details, Gore (A) and Bush (B) have similar stated goals for promoting e-commerce at home and abroad, training a tech-savvy workforce and spreading opportunity to the economy's have-nots. And the reason Gore and Bush sound alike is not just because, like all presidential hopefuls, they'll say just about anything they think will win them votes. The truth is their technology slogans and policies come from the same source: IT industry execs from vote-rich Texas and just-plain-rich Silicon Valley, along with their lobbyists in Washington, D.C.
So far, the candidates have been using those connections to drum up support and raise money. Later, however, when the candidate metamorphoses into the president, and the things he says will actually affect the way we live and do business, the power of those advisers will grow. Access is everything. After all, politics is all about how big a piece of the economic pie you get, and you're much more likely to get a bigger slice if you know someone (or you know someone who knows someone) who's handing the chief executive the knife.
Who will have the next president's ear? For Gore, it's a mix of old friends and new political allies. His inner circle of IT advisers is a tightly knit fraternity mostly made up of people who have held important staff or political posts during Gore's 23 years in elected office. As lawyers, lobbyists or corporate executives, almost all once worked or are currently employed by high-tech companies.
Bush, newer to public service than Gore, is closest to an alliance of high-tech executives he has courted ever since winning the Texas governorship in 1994. Most of them are also relatively new to politics, becoming active in the past decade as government began debating how much to regulate technology and the Internet. Bush's IT team is drawn mainly from the board of TechNet, a bipartisan industry lobbying group that also has members supporting Gore. Both Bush and Gore count among their starting IT lineup partners from Silicon Valley's hottest venture capital organization, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
Campaign veterans maintain that these high-tech honchos don't call the shots. A web of advisers to both campaigns, on everything from education to national security, gets to weigh in before its candidate decides whether to wire more schools or ease export controls.
"With the significant changes in our economy, technology issues are a part and parcel of every domestic area; they're not just a separate issue," says Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis who is Bush's chief domestic policy adviser. "They are part of changing the way we look at [the] environment, part of the way we fight crime and part of the way we reform government. There have been individuals the campaign has sought for specialty issues like taxation on the Internet or privacy, where there are interesting and complicated questions. But as a rule, the technology issues cut horizontally across every area."
Ditto for Gore. "IT policy is in no way an isolated thing for him. It's woven into every decision," says Jim Kohlenberger, the vice president's senior domestic policy adviser in the White House, who is helping the campaign in his off-hours.
Still, thanks to its money, high profile and money, when it comes to broad issues like education, trade and tax policy, the IT industry's agenda matters.
There's a level at which that's hardly worth mentioning. The IT business is business, and ideas like smoothing the way for more exports to China and making sure students leave high school computer literate probably mean much the same whether your company makes modems or soft drinks. But if the president is, say, negotiating to waive tariffs on Internet purchases, which in turn affects your supply chain or sales strategy, one policy may not fit all. That's when having access, or knowing someone who does, becomes important.
Although both Bush and Gore have met with dozens, maybe hundreds, of technology experts during the past few years in preparation for their campaigns, the political advisers profiled here are the ones who are most involved week to week in helping the candidates shape their IT policy. If you know one of them, you might get to know the president too.
The Gore Gang
The Bush Bunch
Tech issues kept mainly offstage in campaign 2000
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