Trade Group Wants Congress to Focus on Tax Credit, Security

The U.S. Congress should focus on extending a research and development tax credit and on passing data breach notification regulations and other cybersecurity legislation during a brief session this month, a large technology trade group recommended.

Congress returns to Washington, D.C., this week for a so-called lame-duck session lasting about three weeks, and TechAmerica wants lawmakers to focus on some technology issues, in addition to income-tax and budget issues, officials of the 1,200-member trade group said Monday.

There's broad agreement that the research and development tax credit needs to be extended, as well as strong support for a national data breach notification law and updates to the U.S. Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), said Phil Bond, TechAmerica's president and CEO.

"These are priorities that have been voiced and supported by the [congressional] leadership on all sides," Bond said. "There is no debate about the need for an R&D tax credit. Our hope is that we can get some of the consensus issues done."

Congress will also be focused on debating whether to extend tax cuts approved during former President George W. Bush's administration and on hammering out a federal budget, so it's unclear how much of a priority tech issues will get this year.

The lack of an R&D tax credit, which expired nearly a year ago, is costing the U.S. jobs, Bond said. U.S. President Barack Obama called for a permanent R&D tax credit in September, after temporary tax credits have expired 13 times since 1981. Congress has balked at making the tax credit permanent because of its price tag -- about US $7 billion a year.

Obama has suggested paying for the tax credit by closing so-called loopholes for taxes paid by U.S. companies overseas.

"Our point is that it needs to go and it needs to stand on its own," Bond said of the R&D tax credit. "It's worth doing for today and for tomorrow for the economy."

Data breach legislation, that would require companies with data breaches to report them to affected customers, has passed through the House, and there is similar legislation in the Senate, said Liesyl Franz, TechAmerica's vice president for information security programs. There's strong support for a data breach bill, and it could move "very rapidly" through the Senate, she said.

FISMA, passed in 2002, contains a host of cybersecurity regulations for U.S. government agencies, but critics have called it more of a paperwork exercise than a true effort to improve security. Senator Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat, introduced a bill in April 2009 that would revamp FISMA evaluations of agencies and test security through in-house attacks.

Another version of the FISMA legislation has been introduced in the House.

In the lame-duck session, lawmakers who lost elections earlier this month will continue to serve until the new session of Congress starts early next year. Democrats will continue to be the majority party in both chambers, until Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in the new Congress.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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