Again pledging his commitment to technology, President-elect Barack Obama said Dec. 6 that investing heavily in computers and broadband connections for schools and hospitals will be part of his immediate economic recovery plans after he takes office Jan. 20.
Obama pledged during his weekly address over the radio and the Internet to make the single largest new investment in national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. In addition to infusing school districts and the health care industry with federal IT dollars, the plan also includes a massive effort to make public buildings and schools more energy-efficient.
The president-elect said he hopes a flood of federal cash to states for the projects will ultimately create 2.5 million jobs.
"We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient and put new computers in our classrooms," Obama said, "because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools."
Obama added that part of the plan is to "renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they'll get that chance when I'm president-because that's how we'll strengthen America's competitiveness in the world."
In addition to connecting schools and libraries to broadband connections, Obama promised a renewed push for health care IT, which President Bush has also touted as a key to saving millions in health care costs. Bush's health care IT initiatives, though, have failed to gain traction over costs, security and privacy concerns.
"We will make sure that every doctor's office and hospital in this country is using cutting-edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes and help save billions of dollars each year," Obama said.
Obama didn't put a dollar figure on his initiatives, but he told Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" Dec. 6 that a federal deficit that could be as much as $1 trillion is not the immediate concern of his administration.
"We understand that we've got to provide a blood infusion into the patient right now to make sure that the patient is stabilized, and that means that we can't worry short term about the deficit," Obama said. "The key for us is making sure that we jump-start that economy in a way that doesn't just deal with the short term, doesn't just create jobs immediately, but also puts us on a glide path for long-term, sustainable economic growth."
Josh Silver, executive director of public advocacy group Free Press, praised Obama's decision to include technology as part of any economic plan.
"In our 21st century society, having a connection to a fast and affordable Internet is no longer a luxury-it's a public necessity," Silver said in a statement. "But right now, more than 40 percent of American homes are not connected to broadband. This digital divide isn't just costing us our ranking as global Internet leader-it's costing us jobs and money at a time when both are urgently needed."