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Q&A: Handling IT on a presidential campaign

Computerworld

(IDG) -- With Election Day approaching, Computerworld spoke with information technology managers for the two presidential front-runners about how IT contributes to the election of the U.S. President.

Cliff Angelo, 27, e-campaign manager for the Bush/Cheney 2000 campaign in Austin, Texas, has worked for Gov. George W. Bush since 1996. He headed IT and the Web site for Bush's gubernatorial re-election campaign in 1997; he took over as IT director for the presidential campaign in January.

Steven Berrent, 25, joined Vice President Al Gore's campaign in the spring of 1999 after working on special projects for a political consulting firm. In February, he became director of IT for what is now the Gore/Lieberman campaign.

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How many IT people do you have?

Angelo: Eight total. Two work on the internal office network; two on the e-campaign; another handles all the [external] campaign e-mails; another does our multimedia, like our live online radio show; and we have interns who are jacks-of-all-trades.

Berrent: Five for IT, and we each wear many hats, from peer support to networking to server maintenance. We all bring a specialized skill set to the mix and help each other out. The Web staff is separate, and is also five people.

What's unique about IT in a presidential campaign?

Angelo: Mainly the speed of things. You don't have time to take a look at a problem and take a week to develop a solution. A week is an eternity in a campaign.

Berrent: The key thing is the candidate -- Gore understands the technology we use and expects the campaign to stay ahead of the curve.

[Also] corporations don't really know when they're going to go out of business. Win or lose -- and of course we will win -- on Nov. 8 we will shut down. So that's a unique situation. When we're faced with problems, we often don't ask, "How do we fix this?" but rather, "How do we fix this so it can work for 20 more days?"

How does IT directly contribute to getting a candidate elected?

Angelo: Every department relies on IT for communications. If the Net connection goes down or pagers aren't working, the office doesn't function, and the message doesn't get out to the public. The Web site is the most visible part of the campaign. Most corporations are selling a product or an image, and the governor is our product. Our job is to get him elected. We play a very important role in making sure his message is out.

Berrent: I don't think a candidate for president could get elected without an IT staff today. We may not get all the thank-yous and all the press, but if the e-mail doesn't get out and files don't save and printers don't print, the campaign would be in a much different place than it is.

How long is an average workday?

Angelo: Probably 12 to 16 hours, seven days a week. And we're all sleeping with pagers by our beds.

Berrent: We're usually here from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays, plus we're on-call 24/7.

How's the pay?

Angelo: Average. We're here for the experience and getting the governor elected. Hopefully larger salaries are in my future.

Berrent: If I told you, you would cry. It's significantly less than market rate.

What's going on in IT as the election draws nigh?

Angelo: Right now we're in what I call a holding pattern, where we're making sure our systems are up 100% of the time and all fires are out as quickly as possible. We're also preparing for where our equipment will go. It's all leased, so we have to get all the laptops and beepers and cell phones back from the road.

Berrent: Putting out fires, keeping the network up and the e-mail flowing. Most of us here are political animals, so we're caught up in all the excitement of the election that everyone else in the campaign is experiencing.

What will you be doing on Nov. 8?

Angelo: Everyone's going to take a nap.

Berrent: After we finish celebrating, we'll start to clean up. Some of our equipment is rented, and that will have to be returned. We'll hang onto the servers for the post-campaign audit and wind-down process, and then all the purchased equipment will be cleaned up and redistributed.

What I'll miss least is the sound of the pager at 5 in the morning.




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RELATED SITES:
Gore-Lieberman campaign Web site
Bush-Cheney campaign Web site

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