by CIO Staff

U.S.’s Misguided Nonpolicy on Technology

Feb 08, 20054 mins

A new poll of the CIO Executive Council (a professional organization for CIOs founded by CIO magazine) shows that IT leaders are concerned that the U.S. government does not have a technology policy and that this failure could have a long-term impact on American companies’ ability to innovate. In particular, CIOs thought that the government hasn’t done enough in the areas of cybersecurity, development of technology standards, online privacy protection, spam/spyware, and R&D and technology education.

CIOs think that it is time for action. Sixty percent would like to see the federal government institute a coherent technology policy that sets specific goals for such areas as Internet access, cybersecurity, spam, and research and training. Right now these and other issues are handled by different agencies. The current structure does not allow for much cross-agency coordination on policy issues and R&D priorities, and it makes it hard for the private sector to collaborate with policymakers on a wide range of topics. In fact, a majority of CIOs said they either didn’t know or weren’t sure if they knew which government agency or agencies were responsible for policy decisions concerning broadband (66 percent), spam and spyware (73 percent) and R&D (87 percent). Only slim majorities said they knew which agency or agencies set policy for cybersecurity (53 percent), identity theft (54 percent) and high-tech work visas (56 percent).

As a result, 63 percent of the CIOs surveyed by the Council favored the creation of a central agency to coordinate technology issues across the government. These IT executives believe that such a coordinating agency would improve the U.S. government’s ability to make smart decisions about information technology policy and would be more responsive to the concerns of businesses.

This is a surprising result considering that CIOs, and the business community more generally, have long argued for less government intervention.

What’s changed? The current system’s inability to support comprehensive policy on key technology issues has become clearer as the issues have matured. More CIOs felt that the government has done too little rather than done enough or too much for just about every technology issue they were asked about. Seventy-three percent thought that the government had done too little in cybersecurity, 78 percent reported too little done for online privacy protection and 80 percent felt the government fell short for spam and spyware.

A surprising 46 percent thought that the government hadn’t done enough to develop technology standards (more than the combined answers for “just right” and “too much”), a huge percentage when you consider that a November 2003 Council poll found that 78 percent of respondents said that the government should play no regulatory role in improving software quality. In fact, the only area where a majority of respondents thought that the amount of government action was just right or too much was offshore outsourcing, which only 26 percent thought needed more intervention. In the November 2003 survey, 60 percent of CIOs said that the government should take steps to preserve U.S. IT jobs. The government hasn’t changed its policies in the meantime.

Throughout the survey there are indications why CIOs do not think that the government is structured in a way that allows it to make good technology decisions. Only 11 percent of CIOs think that lawmakers understand the technology impact of the regulations they pass, and 75 percent feel that CIOs have no impact when it comes to influencing technology-related policy decisions. A majority feel that the creation of a centralized technology agency would increase their influence on technology policy issues and help the government make smart decisions.

There is another reason why CIOs are calling for a technology policy and an agency to oversee it. For the first time, CIOs see the U.S. as vulnerable. Recently, economists have started to point out the threat posed to the U.S. by the rise of China as a technology power. Now, CIOs share their concern that the next tech boom may not happen here. Fully 41 percent of the CIOs surveyed predicted that the US would no longer be the world’s technology innovation leader 15 years from now, while only 38 percent thought we would.

I’ll be covering this issue more fully in an upcoming issue of CIO magazine.