Encryption. Although it was the Clinton administration that stepped forward
to ease export controls on encrypted software, that didn't come about until years of
hard lobbying by the IT trade groups. Arguing that encryption restrictions hampered the
global competitiveness of the American software industry, the vendors got backing from
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who built a groundswell of congressional support for his Security
and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act of 1999. The SAFE Act subsequently was
championed by at least two IT trade groups -- the Business Software Alliance and
Software and Information Industry Association, both based in Washington and both
supported by the likes of Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. Not that the encryption
reversal should be construed as a blow against CIOs -- indeed, their companies may well
benefit from fewer restrictions. But it is a sign of how the White House can be swayed
by the IT power brokers.
IS Staffing.The ITAA again was at the forefront of the effort to publicize
the high-tech staffing shortage and affect federal legislation to ease it. In Congress,
the ITAA and several other IT trade associations successfully lobbied -- twice -- to
raise the quota of H-1B visas for nonimmigrant foreign workers. While the extra influx
of foreign programmers is good for IT suppliers who operate on short-term product
development and delivery cycles, it does little to address the needs of non-IT
companies that are starving for help recruiting, retaining and reskilling permanent IT
Perhaps the IT trade groups' most visible show of force was a mid-1998 "fly-in" of
more than 30 high-tech CEOs (Intel's Andy Grove and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s then CEO Lew
Platt among them) to meet one-on-one with key government leaders to discuss three
specific issues: Y2K, encryption and Internet taxation. A public relations stunt?
Perhaps. But it was a fruitful one -- within a year, Congress passed the Y2K Act and a
three-year moratorium on new e-commerce taxes, and then the Clinton Administration
performed its celebrated encryption flip-flop.
Harris Miller, president of the ITAA, downplays the significance of the lobbying
effort on behalf of IT vendors. "Lobbying is another word for education," Miller
says. "The media likes to talk about 'buying votes,' as if this were all about back-
room politics, but at the end of the day you've got to have intelligent arguments on
your side if you're going to sway people."