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Jewish World Review June 20, 2002 / 10 Tamuz, 5762

David Silverberg

David Silverberg
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InfoTech: Lieberman leaps into high-tech | Who would have thought that a chairmanship of the woolly old Senate Governmental Affairs Committee could be turned into a presidential springboard and the hottest congressional body around?

Usually, Governmental Affairs is a committee only a wonk can love, a body that delves into the minutiae of process and jurisdiction and the intricacies of screwed up government computer systems.

But with the biggest proposed governmental reorganization in 50 years, the committee's chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), a 2004 presidential possibility and former vice presidential candidate, has found himself firmly ensconced in the spotlight.

Short of being Al Gore's vice president, Lieberman could not have situated himself better. But he isn't only an organization wonk. He's long been interested in technology issues and he's been a leader of the New Democrats - who accept the promise of technological innovation as an article of economic faith.

On June 6, Lieberman dropped another technology-related bill, the National Broadband Strategy Act of 2002, S. 2582, into the hopper. Given his profile and his presidential potential, it deserves closer scrutiny.

Broadband is the insiders' term for delivering data across the Internet and far higher speeds that are possible with the dial-up modems still tethered to most home computers. With broadband in place, a computer can easily deal with the multimedia world of sound and motion pictures.

Currently, only a minority of users, mostly in the business world, can receive broadband. But widespread diffusion is clearly the next stage in the saga of the Internet.

Precisely how broadband will be disseminated, particularly to rural or underserved areas, has been the subject of much speculation and controversy, not least in the Tauzin-Dingell bill (H.R. 1542) that passed the House in February and which continues to languish in the Senate Commerce Committee chaired by an opponent of the measure, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.).

Lieberman had his staff perform a study of technology issues and uncovered a variety of issues that needed to be addressed. The result was S. 2852, which would go some distance toward dissemination of broadband.

It calls for formulation of a national strategy to provide widespread broadband availability, promote broadband research and encourage broadband investment. This, in turn, is expected to facilitate more sophisticated applications, especially e-commerce and, of course, e-government.

While Tauzin-Dingell is designed to address broadband's competitive aspects, S. 2852 is intended to deal with broadband on a macro level and establish a sweeping strategy that will take the country well into the future.

Lieberman's initiative already has support from industry groups and that may translate into real campaign money come election time. Politically, it should stand him in good stead with the high-tech community if Gore gets out of the way and he decides to challenge Dubya in 2004.

Yet another pending Lieberman initiative is the E-Government Act of 2001, S. 803 to improve online government service.

Before Sept. 11, efficient, digitized delivery of government services seemed to be a logical executive branch initiative. During the Clinton administration it was a priority item for Gore, who launched a reinventing government initiative.

As introduced, S. 803 would have established a federal chief information officer (CIO). In the House Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2458.

There remain some honest differences about the best means to improve government online services. In particular, while many e-government advocates feel that a federal CIO is necessary to provide the push and vision for effective e-government, administration officials opposed the idea, arguing that they would rather have the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget fill the slot.

After holding hearings on the matter last July, Lieberman yielded to the administration's demands, changing his bill to eliminate the position.

After the revised S. 803 was reported out favorably, Lieberman opened negotiations with the administration to iron out outstanding issues. Supporters hope the Senate will act this year.

S. 803 and S. 2852 may not be the sexiest pieces of legislation on earth; they can't compete for the spotlight with creation of a Homeland Security Department. However, they're worthwhile efforts in a field that might otherwise lie fallow. More particularly, they're Lieberman's products, making them ipso facto worthy of serious study.

JWR contributor David Silverberg is managing editor of The Hill. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, David Silverberg