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Tech groups try to outgrow dwarf status to gain clout in Washington

September 11, 2008 | 10:49 am
Snowwhite

Most major industries have a dominant trade association to make their case in the nation's capital. Think the Motion Picture Assn. of America for the Hollywood movie studios or the American Petroleum Institute for the oil companies. Those lobbying groups give their industries one powerful voice, making it easier to get their messages heard through the Washington cacophony.

But the high-tech industry often creates its own cacophony.

It has more than two dozen trade associations, with enough similar sounding acronyms -- BSA, CCIA, CEA and CTIA are just a few -- to give lawmakers a headache.

"When it comes to lobbying, everyone else is Snow White and we're the Seven Dwarfs," Phillip J. Bond, the president of the Information Technology Assn. of America told me for a 2006 story about the problem of too many tech industry associations in Washington.

Now, on the theory that size matters, Bond's ITAA and AeA, one of the oldest tech trade groups, announced that they were in merger talks. (Formerly the American Electronics Assn., AeA now follows a trend of using an acronym as its official name, much to the consternation of copy editors everywhere).

The two groups wouldn't discuss the sticking points in their talks, but Bond told me today that a merger would move the groups "two or three steps toward being Snow White." It would create the industry's leading association, he said, positioned "to make it clearer to policy makers on Capitol Hill and in the administration what the general technology industry view is on many issues."

The proliferation of technology trade associations is seen as one reason the industry has had difficulty getting Congress to act on some key issues, such as extending the expired research and development tax credit or expanding a visa program for highly skilled foreign workers. The groups sometimes take different positions based on which member companies are more dominant. And some lawmakers have complained they're not sure who is really speaking for the tech sector.

Bond, a former Commerce Department undersecretary for technology, hasn't been bashful about pushing for association mergers to amplify the technology industry's voice -- and clout -- since joining ITAA in 2006. So far this year, ITAA has merged with the Government Electronics and Information Technology Assn. and the Cyber Security Industry Alliance.

That's two dwarfs down, but a lot more to go.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: A scene from Disney's 1937 classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Credit: Disney Home Video

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