On Tuesday, the Tysons Corner Ritz Carlton served as ground zero for the intersection of politics and technology, drawing hundreds of the area's leading political and technology leaders. Through the hotel's wood and glass doors and up to the 5th floor ballrooms streamed, among others, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Jim Moran (D-VA), and congressional hopeful Gerry Connolly. They were joined by area technology executives and innovators such as Mark Ein and CES head Gary Shapiro.
With the Presidential Election just days away, the undercurrent of politics was certainly palpable, but the Potomac Officer's Club (POC) lunch event panel discussion featuring Gov. Kaine, Rock Creek Partners Managing Director (and member of Obama's high tech brain trust) Julius Genachowski and Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra, really focused on recognizing and honoring Northern Virginia's emergence as one of the nation's true business and technology success stories.
Based on their individual relationships with Presidential candidate Barack Obama and his campaign, Gov. Kaine and Genachowski took turns laying out what Sen. Obama's tech policy might look like if elected to the Oval Office. Chopra served ably as moderator of the discussion to push forth compelling questions. The uniqueness of the event, or as Gov. Kaine described it, a “hybrid event,” was not lost on major area publications, as the discussion drew technology reporters from the Washington Post and Washington Business Journal.
In previewing the role technology might play in executing the “business of government,“ Gov. Kaine hinted that Virginia's model for success in fostering an effective climate for businesses (Virginia leads the nation as the best state for business for the third year in a row according to Forbes.com), creating an unmatched technology workforce (Virginia has highest % of tech workers), and in running a more effective and open state government has not gone unnoticed by Sen. Obama and national leaders in general. In other words, for those truly wanting a glimpse of what Obama's technology and innovation policies might look like, Virginia is a good place to start.
Gov. Kaine was quick to point out that his state's success in setting and reaching technology and business goals was set in motion by those who occupied the Governor's chair before him, and would not have been possible without the technology executives sitting in the room and the innovation at the companies they lead. As Virginia's Governor expanded on his comments, it also became clear that technology policy was a driver for a performance management strategy focused on setting internal and external performance goals that would be laid bare to the public and for which state employees would be held accountable for meeting. For Kaine, innovation was a byproduct of transparency; placing government's goals out in the open so that participants would feel driven to innovate in order to reach objectives.
While Gov. Kaine drew the connection between Virginia's path to date and the direction the nation's tech policy road might follow going forward, Genachowski painted Obama's potential tech policy with a broader brush. Genachowski, who first met Sen. Obama at Harvard Law School, said that Sen. Obama believes that technology and innovation will drive solutions to some of the biggest and most vexing challenges the nation will face in coming years, and would focus on committing to a 21st century infrastructure, e-health, expanding technology in education and other initiatives that could drive economic growth and create high-paying jobs. At the same time, Genachowski hinted that Sen. Obama shares Gov. Kaine's commitment to creating an innovative 21st century government, one that is open, transparent and that provides citizens with unprecedented access to information and tools online.
The “information transparency system“ was in fact a theme that coursed through the entire discussion ““ both regarding Gov. Kaine's efforts in Virginia and what might be pursued at a national level if Sen. Obama is sworn in. It is important to note that no one participating in the discussion was assuming an Obama presidential victory, or as Sen. McCain likes to say “measuring the drapes,“ but merely postulating on what could happen if one scenario plays out. And maybe, if both presidential candidates are truly committed to open and transparent government, they may just decide to ditch the drapes all together. That would offer a real window into the inner workings of government.