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IT Gets Mention In Presidential Debate

Considering technology's colossal impact on our world in recent years, you'd think presidential candidates might talk a bit more about it. Lo and behold, information technology did get a mention in last night's presidential debate.
Considering technology's colossal impact on our world in recent years, you'd think presidential candidates might talk a bit more about it. Lo and behold, information technology did get a mention in last night's presidential debate.Within Barack Obama's response to a question about controlling health care costs was this nugget: "We are going to invest in information technology to eliminate bureaucracy and make the system more efficient." That was the only mention of IT I heard in the entire debate.

That prompted me to take a trip today into each candidate's Web site in search of their technology policies, something I had not done since before each party selected its candidate.

Specific to the health care question, a "key feature" of Obama's plan is to use IT to "lower the cost of health care," it says on his Web site. He wants to phase out paper medical records, citing that processing paper claims costs twice as much as processing electronic claims. He's calling for an annual investment of $10 billion 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."

John McCain is thinking about IT and health care, too. "We should promote the rapid deployment of 21st century information systems and technology that allows doctors to practice across state lines," says his Web site. (Is that related to his plan to offer a health insurance tax credit that could be used to buy insurance across state lines? That's unclear.)

Beyond health care, the two candidates share some common views related to technology. Both support a permanent R&D tax credit for business, for example. But of course, there are clear differences, too. Here are my observations:

McCain's technology policy is mostly focused on keeping taxes low for businesses. Tax policy should support "risk capital," his site says, so companies have more to spend on innovation. That includes keeping capital gains taxes low, and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% to encourage investment in U.S. technologies.

McCain also proposes that businesses be able to expense new equipment and technology in their first year of operation. He doesn't want taxes on the Internet, saying it hampers innovation, and opposes raising them for wireless services. "Taxes account for over 20% of many mobile phone users' bills. Such excessive taxation dampens innovation and hits vulnerable Americans," says his site.

Obama, meanwhile, wants to appoint "the nation's first Chief Technology Officer," to ensure the U.S. has a modern IT infrastructure, policies, and services. The CTO will work with the CTOs and CIOs of federal agencies to "ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices." Obama wants to use IT to improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens.

Obama's site takes on some of the social issues of the Internet, too. He "strongly supports" the principle of network neutrality and wants to keep the Internet open. He wants policies, parental tools, and laws in place to protect children from predators on the Internet, with the caveat that First Amendment rights must be protected in the process. He also wants to strengthen privacy protection, and "harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy."

So there you have it. You may not have heard much about the candidates' views on technology during the debates, but some thought has gone into presenting those views at their Web sites.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer