Bush and Kerry Debate Technology

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The IT industry is a vital driver in the U.S. economy, according topresidential candidates Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass) and President GeorgeW. Bush. Both claim to focus on the importance of the high-tech world,but some industry analysts wonder how much impact either will have onthe tech sector.

With the Nov. 2 election about a week away, the presidential hopefulsremain neck-and-neck in the polls. Technology workers across the countrywatch the candidates for an indication of which one will place morevalue on the IT industry, which has been struggling to regain itsfooting the past several years.

A recent survey, designed by the Computing Technology IndustryAssociation (CompTIA), asked the candidates camps a variety ofquestions regarding the role of technology in the U.S. economy. The 12questions range from their plans for keeping American high-tech workerscompetitive in the global marketplace to spam and cyber security.

Candidates on Jobs, Spam, Security Questions

Mike Wendy, manager of media relations at CompTIA, says he hopes thesurvey will act as a voting aid for the information technology sector.He and his team want to provide the candidates a forum to speak totechnology workers about some of the issues they're dealing with.

''These issues haven't really been debated in the [presidential]debates,'' Wendy says.

He adds that CompTIA does not side with either camp but he rather hopesreaders will utilize the survey's results and form their own opinions.

When responding to the survey question about the importance of the ITindustry to the growth and development of the U.S., Bush says he seesthe sector as a driving force behind the economy.

''In a rapidly changing global economy, one thing is for certain:innovation will drive America's economic success and prosperity,'' Bushwrites in his response. ''We must adapt to the reality that the sametelecommunication networks that integrate nations into the globaleconomy also bring new competitors to our doorstep.''

John Bailey, deputy policy director of technology issues for the Bushcampaign, says the president plans to invest in the tech sector toensure its stability and competitiveness. He says the Bushadministration plans to increase funding for the Federal Research andDevelopment Tax Credit. He also says Bush will try to make the taxcredit affordable for the private sector.

Bailey also says Bush plans to continue to pursue free trade agreementsthat open up tech markets in other nations.

''This will help tech companies expand and tap into markets overseas,while insuring that they have the proper protections,'' Bailey says.

However, Kerry's Technology Advisor, Tom Kalil says it is clear the Bush administration does not consider the tech industry a high priority.

''They are not focused on these issues at all,'' he says. ''Only duringthe heat of the campaign did they talk about it. Where were they in thelast three and a half years?''

Kalil says Kerry plans to focus heavily on the IT industry. Sen. Kerryhas said he will implement a number of plans to help the tech sector,such as diminishing the tax credit given to IT companies for shippingjobs overseas, and instead creating a tax credit for companies creatingnew jobs here in the U.S.

Kalil also says Kerry supports the Research and Development Tax Creditand will work with Congress to make it a permanent fixture.

Robert Atkinson, vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based research and education institute and liberalthink-tank, says the Kerry camp values the IT industry more than Bushdoes.

''The president talks a good game, is long on rhetoric, but he is shorton follow-through,'' Atkinson says.

Kerry surrounds himself with a lot of people focused on andknowledgeable about information technology, Atkinson maintains. He saysit is hard to find similar people in the Bush administration.

''They are just not there,'' Atkinson says. ''He [Bush] just did notplace IT at a high level.''

''I have had many personal conversations on IT with Kerry, and I get asense that he's pretty interested and knowledgeable about IT,'' Atkinsonadds.

Bailey disagrees. He says the Bush administration will continue toconsider the IT industry a top concern and will listen to and act onthings that people in the IT sector request.

Continue on to see how each candidate responds to issues, like cyber security, spam, and job losses.

Debating the Issues

Spam has become a major IT issue, requiring companies to devotesometimes teams of tech workers to deal with this bandwidth-cloggingproblem. It overflows inboxes, crashes email servers, and increasinglycarries a payload of damaging viruses.

Kerry's technology advisor says spam is a tricky issue and Kerry's administration would allow the tech market to come up with solutions forit.

''He would rely as much as possible on the marketplace for solutionsand creating new technologies that empower users,'' says Kalil.

To help combat the growing spam problem, last year Bush signed theCAN-Spam Act into law. For one thing, the law calls for spammers toprovide an opt-out link within the body of the message. The act also isdesigned to help level civil and criminal penalties on spam offenders.

''The new law establishes important 'rules of the road' for civilenforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), other federalagencies, state attorneys general, and ISPs to help curb Spam,'' Bushwrote in response to CompTIA's question.

However, Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute says the CAN-SpamAct hasn't decreased the amount of spam hitting his inbox.

''It is a highly ineffective and compromised bill,'' he says. ''No oneshould be surprised to see spam continue to increase. It never evenhiccupped.''

Bailey says that while more needs to be done in the battle against spam,the act was a good stepping stone.

''It was an important first step,'' Bailey says. ''It wasn't the laststep, and not the only step, but a necessary step.'' Bailey adds that itis too soon to tell if the act has had any effect on the amount of spamcirculating the Internet.

Shawn McCarthy, senior analyst and program manager for government ITspending at IDC, an industry analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass.,says the CAN-Spam act hasn't done the job.

''It has made a slight difference, but that's not enough,'' McCarthysays. ''Spam amounts dipped modestly, but only temporarily.''

McCarthy says he thinks it will be difficult for an administration tohalt spam without eliminating all advertising emails.

Dealing with Job Loss

Over the past three years, many American IT workers have lost their jobsbecause U.S. companies moved the work to foreign shores, takingadvantage of lower pay scales in countries like India, China and thePhilippines. This offshoring trend began with call center andentry-level programming jobs, but it's moving up the IT ladder now withmid-level and even some upper-level technology jobs disappearing here inthe U.S.

And with high-end, high-paying jobs on the line, offshoring has become apolitical hot button. What should, and can, be done is being hotlydebated.

''Today's jobs tend to move to where they can be done moreeffectively,'' says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, a Nashua,N.H.-based industry analyst firm. ''There is not a great deal agovernment can or should do about that movement.''

Both candidates say they recognize that offshoring of U.S. tech jobs isan inevitable aspect of the global economy, however their approaches todealing with the issue differ.

''This is a business trend,'' Bailey says. ''We may see it taper off abit. No one really knows how many jobs are being moved overseas.''

Thomas Lenard, Ph.D, vice president for research at The Progress andFreedom Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington D.C.,says he thinks the Bush administration is handling the outsourcing issuewell.

''They reacted well to the trend,'' Lenard says. ''This is a part ofinternational trade that benefits us all.''

Bailey says Bush is concerned when any American worker loses his job,regardless of the reason. He says the Bush administration is focused onjob-training services that aid the American worker in finding a newcareer.

Kalil, though, says the Bush administration has created a massive amountof job loss.

''Look at the results,'' Kalil says. ''There are 800,000 lost IT jobs inthe US. Bush is the first president since Hoover that we see a netdecline in the private sector.''

Kerry will work to create 12 million new jobs if elected, Kalil says.

Many analysts think IT workers should be awarded the same benefits,counseling and job retraining given to manufacturing workers when theirjobs began moving overseas in previous decades.

Haff says these actions are vital in easing the job displacementprocess.

''Those kinds of programs can only ease the pain and relocationsomewhat,'' Haff says. ''They are never going to eliminate the burden ofthese shifts, but they are certainly well-worth doing.''

Kalil says that while there will always be job loss due to outsourcing,Kerry's administration would take steps to curb this trend and supportunemployed Americans. He says Kerry would diminish the tax breaks givento companies for sending jobs overseas and create tax credits for newjobs.

But Bailey notes that during his presidency, Bush has increased theTraining Assistance Adjustment budget by 150 percent. He also has uppedjob-training funds by 12 percent.

Bush also plans to propose a Personal Re-employment Account that willgrant displaced workers funds toward finding a new job. If the personlands a new job within 13 weeks, the balance goes into their pocket,Bailey says.

Building Cyber Security

Malware, industrial spies and black hat hackers cause massive amounts of damage to enterprise networks every year. Now foreign-based hackers arebeing added to that mix. Without a viable solution neutralizing theseattacks, the candidates also voiced concerns about cyber security andjust how to handle it.

''We need a president who will devote the energy of the White House tomaking our networks -- our 21st century infrastructure -- stronger andmore secure,'' Kerry wrote in response to CompTIA's question. ''Thatmeans supporting a Cyber Security Intelligence System ready to detectthese threats.''

Kalil says Kerry's Cyber Security Intelligence System refers to ways tostomp out new kinds of worms and viruses. He says Kerry plans onincreasing funding for research and development so the IT industry candesign technologies and solutions for these dangers.

The Bush camp takes a slightly different stance.

''The investments being made today in securing our nation's cyberinfrastructure and in cyber security R&D are working to ensure thatfuture generations of network software and hardware are less vulnerableto an attack and can maintain critical operations even whencompromised,'' Bush writes.

** To discuss the election and how its outcome might affect the IT industry, check out our IT Forum.

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