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OBAMA VS. ROMNEY: technology

Science Nonfiction: Graphic



President Obama has supported the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations designed to prevent Internet companies from engaging in anticompetitive behavior, and his Justice Department shot down AT&T’s blockbuster attempt to take over T-Mobile. Telecom analyst Paul Gallant predicts that a second term for Obama would likely benefit smaller telecommunications companies as well as new-media companies like Google and Amazon. Under Obama, the FCC developed a National Broadband Plan with the goal of ensuring that 98 percent of Americans have access to next-generation broadband services. Obama has also favored freeing up more wireless spectrum for use by private companies, but his campaign has offered few new details on what his future telecom goals may be. 


As part of a plan under Obama to treat cyberattacks as a major national-security threat, the Defense Department formed U.S. Cyber Command to try to boost U.S. cybersecurity efforts. While Obama favors measures such as encouraging businesses and government to share cyberinformation, he says that some mandatory security standards are needed. Despite a push from the administration, however, Congress has balked at giving federal officials more authority to enforce security standards for certain critical private computer networks. Now the White House is considering an executive order that could create more voluntary cybersecurity standards for businesses if Congress fails to act. 

Obama says he wants to reaffirm the U.S. as the “world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation.” His White House has featured a range of initiatives aimed at using the latest science to boost the economy and make government more effective, and he has sought to increase research funding. But not all his science policies win praise. Although George W. Bush put the plan in motion to retire the space shuttle, Obama took flak when the beloved program ended last year. Under Obama’s plan, private companies will shuttle astronauts while NASA focuses on sending a mission to Mars or an asteroid. 

The president  views government as an active partner in spurring innovation among businesses and individuals. His rhetoric often includes praise for government-funded projects like the Internet as platforms to help businesses develop new products and services. The White House has emphasized innovation by issuing the first-ever Strategy for American Innovation. Obama also named 18 Presidential Innovation Fellows to work on projects such as developing secure electronic health systems, making it easier for small businesses to work with the government, giving Americans easier access to government data, and developing ways to use electronic payments for international aid.




Under Obama, the State Department has pushed for Internet freedom around the world. Officials are working to prevent any shift from the current decentralized form of Internet governance.

Thanks to a George W. Bush-era plan, the space shuttle flew its last flight under Obama. NASA’s funding has remained relatively flat in Obama’s budgets, but as far as space enthusiasts are concerned, that equals a cut.


The White House released an online privacy “bill of rights” aimed at developing voluntary standards for companies to give users more control over their information.

Obama launched a program to harness the huge amounts of data collected by government agencies to solve problems in science, engineering, national security, and other areas.



John Holdren:  The director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is the president’s top adviser on these issues. He comes from Harvard University’s government and science programs.

Todd Park: A former official at the Health and Human Services Department, Park is the administration’s second chief technology officer, a new position created to find ways to use technology to make government work better.    

Eric Schmidt: Google’s executive chairman served as an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign. Since then, he has been named to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Michael Daniel: A relatively unknown veteran of the Office of Management and Budget, Daniel is at the center of Obama’s effort to boost national cybersecurity.




Mitt Romney advocates a hands-off approach to telecom regulation. “It is not the role of any government to ‘manage’ the Internet,” he has said. Analysts say a Romney presidency would likely benefit establishment telephone, Internet, and cable companies who are better able to compete in a deregulated world. The Federal Communications Commission’s network-neutrality rules, which aim to help smaller companies compete with larger Internet rivals, are a “solution in search of a problem,” according to Romney. Romney says that the best way to help expand the benefits of new communications systems is to remove regulations. He proposes capping the total number of rules by forcing agencies like the FCC to remove an old one for each new one they create. 

Echoing some of his national-security advisers, Romney says he will use the resources of intelligence and defense agencies to better secure American networks from cyberattacks. Any national cybersecurity effort, he says, needs to include a range of civilian and defense agencies. Within his first 100 days in office, Romney will order a review of cybersecurity issues and the development of a new strategy for confronting the threats. Beyond that, Romney has not outlined what he may do to implement that strategy once it is developed. But Republicans in Congress have joined with business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in opposing any new government authority to enforce standards for private networks, including those that control electric grids or nuclear plants. 

Space exploration is vital for the future of economic growth and national security, according to Romney, but much of his rhetoric on the issue has revolved around the importance of American leadership. Romney says that America’s space program needs clearer goals, not more money. He has outlined few specific steps he would take beyond calling for a process to review the space program. Science polices need to guide political decisions, not the other way around, he argues. Romney accuses Obama of manipulating science to push through new regulations on issues such as the environment. 

Romney identifies four areas as key to spurring innovation: human capital, taxes, regulation, and trade. To attract new talent from around the world, Romney says he will reform the immigration system to accept more skilled workers. Romney favors lowering corporate taxes and making the research-and-development tax credit permanent. Government, he argues, can’t hope to keep up with the private sector, and he says that his goal will be to remove burdensome regulations while requiring Congress to approve any major rule changes. Romney promises to confront China over intellectual property theft and its trade practices, while creating a trade zone of “free-enterprise” countries. 



Republicans and Democrats are relatively united in opposition to proposals that could give the United Nations a greater role in Internet governance. Romney credits the nongovernmental system with allowing the Internet to flourish.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney pushed for a regulatory shake-up, but his reforms ended up being fairly limited. Romney never approved raising general taxes, but he did close tax loopholes and raised some fees.

Romney cut funding for a state manufacturing partnership from $1.38 million to $325,000, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

As governor, Romney supported a bill that would have required more classes in science, math, technology, and engineering, as well as the addition of 1,000 new math and science teachers.



Oren Cass: A Bain & Co. consultant until 2009, Cass was brought on as campaign adviser on domestic policies including technology and telecommunications.

Michael Chertoff: The former Homeland Security secretary was named one of the Romney campaign’s national security advisers. He has been vocal in calling for beefed-up cybersecurity.

Michael Hayden: He served as head of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. Named to Romney’s national-security advisory team, Hayden has called for a greater cybersecurity role for intelligence agencies.

Scott Pace: A former NASA official, Pace is the director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. As chairman of the Romney Space Policy Advisory Group, he says he’s dismayed at Obama’s space policies. 

This article appears in the September 22, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.

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