The Candidates' Plans for Information Technology

Thursday Feb 7th 2008 by Steve Andriole
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McCain proposes tax credits, Clinton sees increased research budgets, and Obama would appoint the first U.S. CTO.

It’s primary season. February 5 was “super Tuesday” where tons of states selected candidates among a shrinking set of mediocre prospects (please, do you really believe that the most qualified Americans are running for president?).

But what are they saying about technology? Who plans to spend the most and how do they plan to spend it?

We know that the Bush administration has been a disaster for information technology (IT) generally and computer science (CS) specifically. Bush has cut spending – especially in basic research – for years. It’s really hard to understand what he has against IT and CS – but for whatever reason he’s decided over and over again not to invest in innovation.

I guess he expected the private sector to support graduate students and create new technologies. Too bad it didn’t work out – for the graduate students, that is. And while we cut technology research funding our global competitors increased it dramatically. Oh well, those days are almost gone.

So now we have four viable 4 candidates (at least in early February): McCain, Clinton, Romney and Obama. What would they do for our cause? (Note that I am not a one issue citizen: I think we should look at multiple issues before selecting a candidate. At the same time, technology – broadly defined – is an important component of our economy. We need to understand what the candidates would do for technology and the productivity and innovation that technology enables.)

John McCain

McCain doesn’t address technology funding but does address some technology-related taxes. Specifically, he promises to:

• Ban Internet Taxes: John McCain believes we must make a farsighted, robust, and fervent commitment to innovation and new technologies to sustain our global competitiveness, meet our national security challenges, achieve less costly and more effective health care, reduce dangerous dependence on foreign sources of oil, and raise the quality of education in the United States. John McCain has been a leader in keeping the Internet free of taxes. As President, he will seek a permanent ban on taxes that threaten this engine of economic growth and prosperity.

• Ban New Cell Phone Taxes: McCain understands that the same people that would tax e-mail will tax every text message -- and even 911 calls. John McCain will prohibit new cellular telephone taxes.

• Permanent R&D Tax Credit: Innovation is fueled by access to sufficient risk capital, a light regulatory burden, skilled workers, and good incentives to pursue new ideas. McCain will reform and make permanent the research and development (R&D) tax credit to keep America competitive and provide a stable environment for entrepreneurs.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney says very little – actually almost nothing – about technology, except for alternative energy technology. IT and CS are clearly not on his front burner.

Hillary Clinton

What does Hillary Clinton say about technology? She promises to:

• Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Defense Department.

• Increase research focus on the physical sciences and engineering: Funding for research in the physical sciences and engineering have remained relatively flat for over a decade, while other nations have stepped up spending. Clinton proposes to direct the federal agencies to commit a large portion of their budget increases to research in these areas.

• Require that federal research agencies set aside at least 8% of their research budgets for discretionary funding of high-risk research: It is critical to support unconventional research that has the potential of producing break-through results. Under the Bush administration, agencies like the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have reduced support for truly revolutionary research. This is a problem because DARPA has played a major role in maintaining America’s economic and military leadership. DARPA backed such projects as the Internet, stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System.

• Ensure that e-science initiatives are adequately funded: E-science has transformative potential, and we must accelerate the pace of discovery and investment to ensure that America leads the emerging field. E-science is research that links Internet-based tools, global collaboration, supercomputers, high-speed networks, and software for simulation and visualization. The potential of e-science is great.

• Boost support for multidisciplinary research in areas such as the intersection of bio, info, and nanotechnologies: This is an area of potentially unique competitive advantage for the United States. Few countries have the depth and breadth of our excellence across different scientific and technological fields.

(Clinton, continued)

• Direct the federal agencies to award prizes in order to accomplish specific innovation goals: The federal agencies should regularly use prizes to encourage innovation when there is a clearly defined goal and when there are multiple technological paths for achieving that goal. Prizes can attract non-traditional participants and stimulate the development of useful but under-funded technology. Clinton proposes to make prizes a part of the budgets at the research agencies.

• Triple the number of NSF fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33 percent: At present, the NSF offers approximately 1,000 fellowships per year, similar to 1960s levels, although the number of college students graduating with science and engineering degrees has grown three fold. The NSF fellowship is the key financial resource for science and engineering graduate students. Clinton proposes increasing the number of fellowships to 3,000 per year.

• Support initiatives to establish leadership in broadband: Under the Bush administration, the country that invented the Internet has slipped to 25th in the global rankings for broadband deployment. In order to accelerate the deployment of sophisticated networks, Hillary Clinton proposes that the federal government provide tax incentives to encourage broadband deployment in underserved areas. She also proposes financial support for state and local broadband initiatives. Various municipal broadband initiatives are underway around the country to accelerate the deployment of high speed networks. The initiatives are useful for education, commerce, technology development, and the efficient provision of municipal services.

• Overhaul the R&E tax credit to make the U.S. a more attractive location for high-paying jobs: The 20% incremental tax credit should be made permanent. Since its introduction in 1981, the credit has been extended 12 times and allowed to lapse once. A permanent credit would make the U.S. a more attractive location for R&D facilities, increasing the likelihood that high-paying research jobs will be created here rather than abroad. Hillary Clinton proposes to make the tax credit permanent in order to eliminate uncertainty, and to make it easier for companies to plan their R&D budgets.”

Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s proposals for Technology:

• Protect the Openness of the Internet: A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way. Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet. Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices.

• Open Up Government to its Citizens: The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history. Our nation’s progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information-all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest. An Obama presidency would use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens. Technology-enabled citizen participation has already produced ideas driving Obama’s campaign and its vision for how technology can help connect government to its citizens and engage citizens in a democracy.

Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and promote citizen participation in government decision-making.

• Bring Government into the 21st Century: Obama will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks.

• Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO): to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

(Obama, continued)

• Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure: To realize Barack Obama’s vision of an interconnected democracy, the nation deserves the finest and most modern communications infrastructure in the world. The technology sector has helped keep the United States at the center of innovation and the job growth and wealth creation that has accompanied it.

However, while the United States once led the world in Internet deployment, the Bush administration has surrendered that leadership through its indifference to technology and its lack of understanding of the 21st century economy. By rededicating our nation to ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband and the skills to use it effectively, Barack Obama will position our citizens, particularly our young people, to compete and succeed in an increasingly technology-rich, knowledge-based economy.

• Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access.

Full broadband penetration can enrich democratic discourse, enhance competition, provide economic growth, and bring significant consumer benefits. Moreover, improving our infrastructure will foster competitive markets for Internet access and services that ride on that infrastructure. Obama believes we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives.

• Employ Technology and Innovation to Solve Our Nation’s Most Pressing Problems: The 21st century tools of technology and telecommunications have unleashed the forces of globalization on a previously unimagined scale. They have “flattened” communications and labor markets and have contributed to a period of unprecedented innovation, making us more productive, connected global citizens. By maximizing the power of technology, we can strengthen the quality and affordability of our health care, advance climate-friendly energy development and deployment, improve education throughout the country, and ensure that America remains the world’s leader in technology.

• Lower Health Care Costs by Investing in Electronic Information Technology Systems: A key feature of Barack Obama’s health care plan is the use of technology to lower the cost of health care. Most medical records are still stored on paper, which makes them difficult to use to coordinate care, measure quality, or reduce medical errors. Processing paper claims also costs twice as much as processing electronic claims. Obama will invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records.

• Invest in the Sciences: Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology. This will foster home-grown innovation, help ensure the competitiveness of US technology-based businesses, and ensure that 21st century jobs can and will grow in America.

As a share of the Gross Domestic Product, American federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970. Yet, it often has been federally-supported basic research that has generated the innovation to create markets and drive economic growth. For example, one recent report demonstrated how federally supported research in fiber optics and lasers helped spur the telecommunications revolution.

• Make the R&D Tax Credit Permanent: Barack Obama wants investments in a skilled research and development workforce and technology infrastructure to be supported here in America so that American workers and communities will benefit. Obama wants to make the Research and Development tax credit permanent so that firms can rely on it when making decisions to invest in domestic R&D over multi-year timeframes.

Some Pay More Attention than Others

I know what you’re thinking. You think that I deliberately included tons of material from Clinton and Obama at the expense of material from McCain and Romney. It’s just not true. It turns out that some candidates have IT and CS on their agendas and some do not. I would have been much happier if all the candidates had specific plans to re-start our formidable research and developent engine, an engine that has sat idling since 2001.

Again, I realize that technology is but one of issues facing our country. But it’s a real issue and the four candidates have something – or very little – to say about an issue that affects our professional lives and the ability of our nation to globally compete.

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