The Candidates' Plans for Information Technology

McCain proposes tax credits, Clinton sees increased research budgets, and Obama would appoint the first U.S. CTO.


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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.

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