Bush and Kerry Debate Technology

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

With the Nov. 2 election about a week away, the presidential hopefuls remain neck-and-neck in the polls. Technology workers across the country watch the candidates for an indication of which one will place more value on the IT industry, which has been struggling to regain its footing the past several years.

A recent survey, designed by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), asked the candidates camps a variety of questions regarding the role of technology in the U.S. economy. The 12 questions range from their plans for keeping American high-tech workers competitive 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 the survey will act as a voting aid for the information technology sector. He and his team want to provide the candidates a forum to speak to technology 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 hopes readers will utilize the survey's results and form their own opinions.

When responding to the survey question about the importance of the IT industry to the growth and development of the U.S., Bush says he sees the 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,'' Bush writes in his response. ''We must adapt to the reality that the same telecommunication networks that integrate nations into the global economy also bring new competitors to our doorstep.''

John Bailey, deputy policy director of technology issues for the Bush campaign, says the president plans to invest in the tech sector to ensure its stability and competitiveness. He says the Bush administration plans to increase funding for the Federal Research and Development Tax Credit. He also says Bush will try to make the tax credit affordable for the private sector.

Bailey also says Bush plans to continue to pursue free trade agreements that 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 during the heat of the campaign did they talk about it. Where were they in the last three and a half years?''

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

Kalil also says Kerry supports the Research and Development Tax Credit and 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 liberal think-tank, says the Kerry camp values the IT industry more than Bush does.

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

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

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

''I have had many personal conversations on IT with Kerry, and I get a sense that he's pretty interested and knowledgeable about IT,'' Atkinson adds.

Bailey disagrees. He says the Bush administration will continue to consider the IT industry a top concern and will listen to and act on things 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 devote sometimes teams of tech workers to deal with this bandwidth-clogging problem. It overflows inboxes, crashes email servers, and increasingly carries 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 for it.

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

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

''The new law establishes important 'rules of the road' for civil enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), other federal agencies, state attorneys general, and ISPs to help curb Spam,'' Bush wrote in response to CompTIA's question.

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

''It is a highly ineffective and compromised bill,'' he says. ''No one should be surprised to see spam continue to increase. It never even hiccupped.''

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 last step, and not the only step, but a necessary step.'' Bailey adds that it is too soon to tell if the act has had any effect on the amount of spam circulating the Internet.

Shawn McCarthy, senior analyst and program manager for government IT spending 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,'' McCarthy says. ''Spam amounts dipped modestly, but only temporarily.''

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

Dealing with Job Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

''They reacted well to the trend,'' Lenard says. ''This is a part of international 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 on job-training services that aid the American worker in finding a new career.

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

''Look at the results,'' Kalil says. ''There are 800,000 lost IT jobs in the US. Bush is the first president since Hoover that we see a net decline 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 their jobs began moving overseas in previous decades.

Haff says these actions are vital in easing the job displacement process.

''Those kinds of programs can only ease the pain and relocation somewhat,'' Haff says. ''They are never going to eliminate the burden of these 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 support unemployed Americans. He says Kerry would diminish the tax breaks given to companies for sending jobs overseas and create tax credits for new jobs.

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

Bush also plans to propose a Personal Re-employment Account that will grant displaced workers funds toward finding a new job. If the person lands 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 are being added to that mix. Without a viable solution neutralizing these attacks, the candidates also voiced concerns about cyber security and just how to handle it.

''We need a president who will devote the energy of the White House to making our networks -- our 21st century infrastructure -- stronger and more secure,'' Kerry wrote in response to CompTIA's question. ''That means supporting a Cyber Security Intelligence System ready to detect these threats.''

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

The Bush camp takes a slightly different stance.

''The investments being made today in securing our nation's cyber infrastructure and in cyber security R&D are working to ensure that future generations of network software and hardware are less vulnerable to an attack and can maintain critical operations even when compromised,'' Bush writes.

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

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