Surfing Washington

By Andelman, David A. | Management Review, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Surfing Washington


Andelman, David A., Management Review


Interested in running a computer-aided education program for children of America's servicemen overseas? How about developing a new multi-missile design and manufacturing system? Having access to a list of experimental projects from the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency would certainly help you win contracts like these.

Maybe what you need is a list of all patents issued in a certain category over the past year, line-by-line details of the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act of 1995, a transcript of deliberations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, or markups on bills before the Senate Banking Committee,

Well, now you can get it all - for free - just as quickly and easily as those $400-an-hour Gucci-shoed lobbyists can, by using the United States government, on-line.

Certainly, putting government information on the Internet isn't a new phenomenon. Much of the Library of Congress has been computerized for year, accessible to researchers at colleges and universities around the world. But now, all of the government, and especially the 104th Congress, is determined to go on-line. Much of that is a tribute to the new leadership in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and especially Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Moving into the

21st Century

Congressman Gingrich (Internet: GEORGIA6@HR.HOUSE.GOV) announced, almost defiantly, in his first major speech after his party swept into office last November, that he intended to drag Congress from the era of a tidewater 1930s hunting and fishing club into the 21st century with one long, hard pull:

"We have to accelerate the transition from a second-wave mechanical, bureaucratic society to a third-wave Information society, to use Alvin Toffler's model [Toffler is both one of Gingrich's closest friends and a leading futurist guru! .... There's no objective reason that institutions of government have to be two or three generations behind the curve in information systems and management, but they are."

But not for long, if the new Speaker has his way, and he usually does:

"We will change the rules of the House to require that all documents and all conference reports and all committee reports be filed electronically as well as in writing and that they cannot be filed until they are available to any citizen who wants to pull them up - and simultaneously, so that information is available to every citizen in the country at the same moment that it is available to the highest-paid Washington lobbyist. This will change over time the entire flow of information and the entire quality of knowledge in the country, and it will change the way people will try to play games in the legislative process."

In short, bringing Congress online - and by example, the entire federal government, since the executive branch will certainly not want the Republican-controlled Congress to steal any thunder from the Democrat-controlled bureaucracy - is an integral part of Newt Gingrich's grander vision for America in his own image.

Not that this should come as any real surprise. Rep. Gingrich came to Washington determined to use information to bring about his vision. The Georgia Republican was among the first group of seven members of Congress to go on-line with Congress's then very much experimental e-mail program in June 1993.

Yet, at the time the Speaker-designate uttered his apocalyptic pronouncement that on his watch all of Congress would be dragged on-line, only 47 congressmen even had Internet e-mail addresses accessible to the public (out of 435 House members) - not to mention the yawning gaps at the levels of committees, joint committees and subcommittees of the House.

Over the past year, Terry Nugent, who heads House Information Systems, the computer system of the House of Representatives, had been laboriously going from office to office along with a technician, one congressman at a time, explaining to each how to take advantage of the electronic systems he was offering. …

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