The Influence Peddlers

By Tom Field, CIO |  Career

A good place to start is by talking with local, state and national legislative
representatives. There's a dual opportunity here: a chance for CIOs to express their
opinions and to educate legislators about IT issues. Technology is an arcane science to
many veteran politicians, who appreciate a little extra help getting up to speed with
IT concepts and jargon. "Politicians have absolutely been way behind the times," says
Goodlatte, whose own IT education began with his appointment to the House Judiciary
Committee's courts and intellectual property subcommittee. "Members [of Congress] are
becoming increasingly aware of what the Internet means and how it affects their
constituents," Goodlatte says, but given the steep IT learning curve, "there's a much
better opportunity today than ever before for people to contact their congressional
representatives and be heard."

One piece of advice: limit your overtures to your own representatives; don't send
spam e-mail to all 435 House members, saying "I need this." "If you do, then I
guarantee 434 people are going to ignore you," Goodlatte says. "If you can't vote for
them, then they aren't going to respond. Just because technology makes it easy to e-
mail everyone in Congress, some people assume their [spam] will have iimpact. It
won't."

The key to influence is information. To be truly effective, CIOs must keep abreast
not just of the latest IT issues, but of how the trade associations are tackling them
in Washington. This information is readily available on the trade groups' Web sites
(see "The Players" left). CIOs also must offer their own informed opinions, either
individually to key lawmakers or through their own business or industry associations.
Traditionally, the non-IT trade groups have shied away from IT issues, but CIOs can
change that mind-set by getting involved and hammering home IT's strategic importance
to business. "There is a massive opportunity for [CIOs] to seize on the idea that the
economy is as strong as it is because national productivity is at an all-time high,"
says Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Part of that productivity can be
directly attributed to the application of technology to business. The tech guys need to
be talking about this issue."

Whether CIOs as a constituency can speak loudly and persistently enough to balance
what lawmakers are already hearing from the IT vendors is an open question. But the
only alternative to trying is to accept being effectively disenfranchised -- totally
removed from the policy-making process. "Recognize that government is always going to
hear from someone on these issues," Donohue says. "And remember, over time the man who
pays the piper gets to call the tune."

The Top 10 Issues

Here are the hottest IT topics in Washington -- and why you should care about
them

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