RealTime IT News

Tech Hopes Dim With Lame Duck Congress

For the key items still left on the technology industry's legislative agenda, the final session of the 108th Congress has come down to wishing and hoping and not much else.

The lame duck Congress will convene Tuesday afternoon and tentatively plans final adjournment on Friday. The four days leave little time to work out compromises on a host of technology issues, including a renewal of the Internet access tax moratorium, stock option expensing and cybersecurity concerns.

Any unresolved technology issues in the 108th Congress will be passed on to the 109th Congress, which will convene in January. Bills not passed by the end of the 108th have to start all over again in the 109th, a process that often takes the full two years of a legislative session.

Extending the now expired Internet access tax moratorium is one of the top priorities of the tech lobby, but hopes for a new ban on Internet connection taxes now appears to be wishful thinking, according to a cross section of tech industry groups and congressional offices contacted by internetnews.com

"I think they'll put it off to next year as part of telecom reform," said Bruce Hahn, director of public affairs at the tech trade group The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). "There's some chance, though, it will get passed."

Bartlett Cleland, the associate general counsel for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), said his group was still hopeful of passage, adding, "Of course, we've been led to believe many times it will be addressed before the end of the session. We're at the end now."

Both the House and the Senate have passed legislation approving a new tax ban on Internet connections, but the differences between the two measures are considerable. The House favors a permanent extension and removes the grandfather clause for states that were taxing dial-up or DSL connections when the ban was originally passed in 1998.

The Senate version proposes a four-year package that keeps the grandfather provisions. Although the House bill passed in September of last year and the Senate legislation was approved in April, the two chambers have been unable to reach a compromise. Both sides have said they support a new ban and have continuously promised legislation will get passed.

"[Congress] has been sending that message for the last four months but they're still having a hard time coughing up that hairball," Cleland said.

If Congress fails to act, Cleland said it would be sending a "horrible message to the states." Since the ban expired last November, no state has moved to tax Internet access. If Congress fails to pass a new moratorium, there will be a "different thought process in the states" when their legislatures begin convening in January.

The offices of Senators George Allen (R-Vir.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), two key supporters of the tax ban, refused to comment on the status of the legislation.

Push on to Promote Cybersecurity Chief

The tech lobby is also pushing hard for two cybersecurity issues currently included in the intelligence reform bill. Bob Cohen of the ITAA said the legislation contains provisions that expedite security clearances and promotes the director of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Defense to an assistant secretary.

The ITAA says clearance reform is needed to overhaul backlogged and outdated processes for investigating and adjudicating security clearances that date back to the Eisenhower administration, delaying programs "critical to the nation's homeland security."

According to ITAA President Harris Miller, security clearance reform should allow individual agencies currently conducting clearance investigations and adjudications to continue while making them accountable to a single federal entity.

"ITAA believes that no single federal agency can conduct investigations for the entire federal government without greatly expanding the current backlog of security clearances," Miller said in a statement last week. The ITAA is also calling for reciprocal recognition of clearances at the same level across different government agencies for both government and contractor personnel.

As for the new cybersecurity position, Miller said, "It is vitally important that there be one full-time, government employee that is responsible for cyber security. We need someone with the authority to take technology off of the table for terrorists and criminals."