Q and A with Harris Miller

Harris Miller served as president of the Information TechnologyAssociation of America (ITAA) trade group for more than a decadeuntil announcing last week that he had stepped down to seek theDemocratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Virginia. As head of theIT trade group, Miller, 54, was the public face of the ITAA, whichrepresents about 250 member companies. A native of New Kensington,Pa., Miller has been active in Democratic politics for years andran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1984. He talked Thursday withComputerworld’s Todd R. Weiss about why he’s again running forpublic office and why he left the ITAA.

This is quite a change in your life, going from the leadership ofthe ITAA to running for the U.S. Senate. What motivated you to dothis?

My concern about the future. That’s really why I was at ITAA,because I’m perceived as a visionary who’s looking ahead. I don’tsee a good future for our country when we’re running unbelievablymassive deficits, when we’re relying on investment from China.We’ve fallen into 17th or 18th in the world in science and mathscores for our students. We’re cutting student loans. We have tohave the best-trained people in the world. Our country is sixth inthe world in research and development investment per capita. I’mjust afraid the country has gone off track.

Are technology issues a key part of your platform, coming from theITAA — where tech issues were your daily mainstay?

I’m running to talk about how you cannot have a technologicalrevolution without investing in people. In fact, cutting collegestudent loans, which is what Congress is looking to do, is actuallygoing backward. You can’t have technology without skilled people.You can’t have technology without investment. You can’t havetechnology when you don’t bring it to all people.

What kinds of changes do you believe are needed?

The U.S. is 14th in the world in broadband distribution to itscitizens. These are the kinds of things where there’s been a lackof investment after taking an early lead…. We’ve becomecomplacent and fallen behind. We’ve been so long going in the wrongdirection that we’ve lost our focus. When Sputnik went up [intoEarth orbit in 1957], we reacted [to the Russian space program]with massive investment in R&D. We began the work to put a manon the moon. Where is that comparable situation today? It’sactually stepping backward. China and India, they aren’t justplaces for cheap labor. They’re making massive investments inR&D. What are we doing? We’re running up massive deficits anddoing pork barrel projects. My campaign is about paying attention,it’s about the future.

Last week, when your plans to leave ITAA became public, OracleCorp., a member of ITAA for years, announced that it was leavingthe group because you are taking on Republican Sen. George Allen,who is seen by Oracle as an established friend of IT. What is yourreaction to Oracle’s move?

I’ve always had a good relationship with the people at Oracle.They’ve been very active in ITAA. I have no idea what that is allabout. I was a little surprised by their comments.

So why are you taking on Sen. Allen, a first-term incumbent?

Allen has been part of the problem. He has the third-highestsupport scores for President Bush’s policies among all U.S.senators. Clearly he’s interested in running for president. I willbe a full-time senator for Virginia when I’m elected.

As the president of ITAA, which includes electronic voting systemsvendors among its members, you said in the past that you opposedverifiable paper trails for such systems. For many people in thecountry, this is a very important issue because of accuracy issuesin several recent elections. What is your stand on this issue as acandidate?

I did oppose verifiable paper trails until about a year and a halfago. I was hearing from local registrars, including in Virginia,that they didn’t want the additional burden for administration andmaintenance that the paper trails would produce with printers andother equipment. But voters want it. It has more voter confidence.My argument at the time was that if [a hacker] is smart enough totake over a [voting] machine and register someone’s vote internallyfor the wrong candidate, that they’re also smart enough to make itlook like the paper trail properly says who you voted for. Peoplecould get a false sense of security.

Why give up an established, full-time job to run for a major officeagainst an incumbent senator?

I’m just so frustrated with the direction of our country and … Ithink I can make a difference.

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