The Influence Peddlers

By Tom Field, CIO |  Career

In 1999, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an Arlington,
Va.-based trade group with a $6 million annual budget, spent $1 million to lobby
federal legislators and promote the group's political agenda. The number-one issue for
the ITAA: Y2K-specifically the Y2K Act, which limits litigation against companies
responsible for Y2K glitches. Passage of this bill was a huge victory for the IT
vendors that constitute the ITAA, yet a significant setback for their CIO customers who
got stiffed by buggy software.

The ITAA is hardly alone. It's one of about a dozen IT industry associations staked
out on Capitol Hill, each of them spending millions of dollars annually to affect
legislation on behalf of their technology vendor members. Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp.,
Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. -- each of these big-name suppliers holds multiple
memberships among these groups, sitting on boards and committees, helping draft their
political marching orders.

And Y2K is but one of several policy issues these vendor groups have influenced.
They were huge players in swaying Congress to increase the quota for H-1B immigrant
work visas in 1998, and last year they helped convince the Clinton administration (in a
particularly stunning policy reversal) to ease export restrictions on encrypted
software.

Now, post-Y2K, lawmakers are finally prepared to debate such hot-button technology
issues as e-commerce and intellectual property regulations -- issues in which
technology vendors and customers alike have vested interest -- and no doubt the IT
trade groups are primed and ready to be the voice of the vendors.

But who will speak for the CIOs?

CIOs: MIA

In a city where image and influence are everything, CIOs have neither. Their only
approximation of a trade association is the Society for Information Management (SIM), a
Chicago-based professional group that relies largely on a bare-bones budget and member
volunteers. Unlike the IT trade associations, SIM has no significant presence in
Washington. And unlike the vendors, CIOs have no visibility with key policy-makers. In
fact, one Republican congressman -- considered one of the most IT-savvy legislators in
Washington -- had to ask when contacted by CIO, "What exactly is a chief information
officer -- the person who manages the computers, or the one in charge of
communications?"

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