Tech officials give mixed views on industry prospects

Prospects for technology policy in the coming months range widely, according to recent interviews with several industry observers and executives.

James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, offered a gloomy forecast. "My prediction is 'slow ahead,'" Lewis said.

He said the government is entering a phase where the fruits will begin to be seen of initiatives implemented by recently departed officials such as Mark Forman, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) associate director for information and e-government, and Norman Lorentz, the chief technology officer at OMB.

But it will not get better soon, as more people are leaving the administration, and the election season is beginning. "Things might be on hold until February 2005," Lewis said. "It's going to be harder and harder to do anything big as we get closer to the election."

Partisan politics also are working against progress, as Democrats will not want to help the Bush administration with any big gains before the election, he said. "What the tech sector has had to get used to is not being the darling of the economy. It's not clear what the next darling will be, but it won't be tech. They've had to go from the rock star to just another slugger."

At least one industry trade association is turning its attention from Washington to the states. "The action for us legislatively next year is going to be at the state level because of the elections," said John Palafoutas, senior vice president at AeA. "We don't anticipate any big legislation coming down, no big tax legislation. It's all caught up in the presidential election."

Palafoutas said the association's Washington-based federal team is spending as much as 40 percent of its time on state-level issues, and in some cases more. Issues include privacy, taxes and how to dispose of e-waste. The shift in resources came after member companies demanded it, he said, adding that it is "absolutely" industry-wide.

But another tech association sees the silver lining in the federal government's inability to legislate. "I think the technology industry has had the view that it wants government to provide a stable environment for new technologies to prosper," said Robert Holleyman, president of the Business Software Alliance. As a result, "a lot of the industry's agenda has been a 'do not harm' agenda."

Holleyman said he does not think the industry has a lengthy wish list. It would like better protection of intellectual property rights, more mathematics and science education, more research and development and more promotion of cybersecurity, he said.

"I think we're very well received on Capitol Hill and within the administration," he said. "I think the receptivity with policymakers is keen for technology" because they understand the importance of technology to U.S. leadership globally.

Basically, industry wants to "keep an environment where these companies can prosper," he said. "I feel pretty good about where Congress and the administration are going."

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