The chief voice for American IT vendors in Washington is seeking to switch sides and become a target of Capitol Hill lobbyists.
Harris Miller, 54, this week quit his job for the past 10½ years as president of the Information Technology Association of America—the lobbying arm of the IT industry—to run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. A Democrat, Miller is eying the seat held by Republican George Allen. Miller says he'll make an official announcement on whether he'll run next week. But in a telephone interview, Miller sounded like a candidate. He already reserved a domain name for his campaign: miller2006.org.
Miller says top Virginia political leaders, including the retiring and popular Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a former high-tech executive who's mulling a run for president, urged him to run for the Senate.
As head of the ITAA, Miller has lobbied Congress to liberalize laws such as the H-1B visa program to allow a greater number of foreign IT workers to be employed in the United States, as well as opposed efforts to penalize American businesses from outsourcing work overseas. Miller's positions on these matters have been attacked by some members of the liberal wing of the Democrat Party who seek to limit the importing of IT workers and the exporting of IT jobs as a way to protect American jobs.
But Miller suggests his views have been misinterpreted by critics, saying he isn't pro- or anti-outsourcing, but recognizes that American businesses operate worldwide and have the right to hire workers in countries where they conduct business. Placing limits on outsourcing could hurt efforts to open foreign markets to American IT wares, he contends.
Instead, government should back programs that encourage the creation of new IT jobs in the United States. For instance, he says he's a long-time advocate of programs to bring broadband and other high technologies to American rural areas as a way to attract IT jobs to those areas. He cites a Warner administration program to create hundreds of high-tech jobs by providing broadband Internet connections to businesses in southwest Virginia. "Five years ago, it was not an option, the area didn't have access to the Internet and technology, and those jobs might have gone to Mexico, India, or China," Miller says.
Miller says the United States isn't investing enough in education and worker retraining, as well as IT research and development and broadband, adding that America has fallen behind some other countries. If elected, he says he'd push for increased investments in these areas. "We have to figure out how to run faster, jump higher than our competitors," he says.
Before joining the ITAA, Miller ran a consulting and lobbying firm in Washington, and served as deputy director of personnel management for Congressional relations in the Carter administration.
Replacing Miller as interim ITAA president is Robert Laurence, who had been Sybase VP of public sector.