Joseph L. Bruno was first elected to the state Senate in 1976. A Republican, Sen. Bruno was named chairman of the Legislative Commission on Public-Private Cooperation in 1989, and was a leader in the fight to control government costs, increase accountability, and reduce costly state mandates. Sen. Bruno was elected temporary president of the Senate in January 1995.
As a legislative priority, Sen. Bruno has highlighted the state's economy and has concentrated on programs to stimulate the creation of jobs, aid the growth of business and commerce and reduce personal taxes.
A former chairman of the board of Mitel Systems Integrators, and co-founder, chairman of the board and CEO of the Coradian Corp., Sen Bruno is well versed in technology.
Sen. Bruno was interviewed by Mike Nevins of State Technologies Inc., a non-profit firm based in Albany, N.Y.
GT: Congratulations on last month's announcement of the Online Public Exchange Network (OPEN Senate). It would seem the Senate is taking a leadership position in providing citizens online access to the legislative process. Is this something that has been in the works for some time?
Bruno: As soon as I became leader, I put together a group of fellow senators and we started talking about changes that should be made to open up the legislative process. This was one of them. It has been reviewed in the past, but I'm not really sure how serious people were about getting that much public access so quickly. I just think that is the direction we should be moving in government. It ought to be open, we ought to be responsive, people ought to have access. So we thought this was an important step and a big step and we wanted to do it quickly.
GT: A number of senators have Internet e-mail addresses now. How are they responding to this?
Bruno: I think most of them are sort of getting a kick out of being on the leading edge in terms of technology, and being able to communicate with each other and with the rest of the world. So I think they have had a very positive reaction. But as you know, people have to get used to knowing that it is there, how to use it and using it regularly. So there is that sort of burdening period - and I think we are going through that now.
GT: Since the announcement was only a month ago, is there any sense of the response from either citizens or interest groups?
Bruno: Any responses I have had have been positive. Some people made suggestions in terms of what might make us more operative. But by in large, everyone has been very positive about opening up the process and making it more accessible to the public and to those with a vested interest.
GT: Your private sector experience includes work in the technology industry. Have you found this to be helpful in your legislative work?
Bruno: Yes, it helps me a great deal and in a number of ways. For one, just having a background in business has been very important. We were in the communications business selling commercial telephone systems. We installed the first private branch exchange against AT&T; in New York. So we were kind of pioneers and competing against the Bell system after the Greene decision that broke up the Bell monopoly. We always sold leading edge products. That is good and bad because we were the first distributor for Rolm, for instance, in the United States. Rolm was one of the first computerized branch exchanges - they replaced the old crossfire systems with computers. We were the first distributor and installed the first Rolm in the U.S. They were one of the biggest communications companies ever in the U.S. and were sold to IBM.
But living life on the leading edge, you also learn that you have to work with the manufacturer in developing the technology so that it is workable. And the first six months or year we had nightmares with those systems. But it taught me that if you want to be on the leading edge and it's worth being there, you better have the resources to stay with the program. We did that in our business. We did take the lead. We were the biggest and fastest growing company in the state in the early parts of the industry. So that brings me back to the senate. We want to do things that are new, different and advanced - not just for the sake of technology, but to be responsive and accessible to the public. And if you're going to be responsive and accessible to them, you have to make the services that you provide "user friendly." You have a work station, you can turn on your TV and you're involved in the legislative process.
GT: Through the Centers for Advanced Technology and other initiatives, New York state has a long standing commitment to information technology as means to foster economic development. Do you see this as an opportunity for growth for New York state?
Bruno: Absolutely. I think it is something that we should develop here in the state. We have to invest in the latest technology and encourage it in every way. We are trying to play a role in that and we're going to be playing a bigger role because that is an area where the governor and I agree. I know we will take the lead and encourage technology here in the state through the growth of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones. So the answer is yes.
GT: There seems to be an enormous increase in interest regarding technology issues among legislators, both locally and nationwide. To what would you attribute this?
Bruno: I think it is really looking for ways to get the public more involved and interested in the legislative process. If we can make it easier for the public to participate and be involved in what goes on legislatively then they will take more of an interest. If the process is more cumbersome, they won't bother. The public is demanding that government get closer to them, more open to them, more responsive to them. I think you are seeing the state and federal government try to be responsive to that.
GT: Much of the recent talk around this project season has been around cost-cutting and downsizing government. Do you envision an increased focus toward technology solutions for service delivery?
Bruno: Yes. When you are trying to cut down the paperwork and trying to cut overhead costs - long term - as we all are in government, I think we have to turn to technology to do that. That is the direction we have been moving in as we try to make government more efficient.
GT: Several states have centralized at least the oversight of information technology into the office of a chief information officer. Senator LaValle's recently introduced bill (S. 2237) would create something like this. Is this something you would like to see happen?
Bruno: I think one of our challenges is to consolidate some of the information and services throughout the state. It's a big state, we have state agencies that do things independently of each other, which is often counterproductive. So yes, I think one of our challenges will be to pull the technology together and make it more efficient and more cost-effective, because now it's not.
GT: Along those same lines, Gov. Pataki recently announced an agreement with IBM which includes consolidation of some of the state's data centers into former IBM facilities in Kingston, Endicott and East Fishkill. Do you see this as a start of a new strategy for the state's handling of information?
Bruno: I believe so. I believe that you will see more and more of that - the consolidation of services and people. Again, the name of the game is efficiency and money. We have to deliver government services for less money.
GT: What role does the legislature play in developing those sort of strategies?
Bruno: We have, through our committee structure, tried to set up a system where we participate with the governor's office in formulation of programs and policy. On the initiation side, we try to be responsive when others bring proposals to us. We take a close look to see how we can help advance them. I work very closely with the RPI and the SUNY system and some of the things that they're doing and have been very instrumental in their work and helping to advance it.
GT: Does the legislature view an investment in technology as an investment in the future of service delivery?
Bruno: I do and I think most of my colleagues do. I think that is one of our challenges - to make sure that some of this gets funded and at least the seed money is there so things keep moving forward. Because as you know, when things are tight and we're looking at a $5 billion deficit, you get into the type of situation where the things that are here are the things that get cut before they even get a chance to be totally reviewed. We have to be careful of that.
GT: The private sector often advocates the use of technology as an enabling tool. It could lead to some dramatic changes in the business process. Do you see the state working more closely with the private sector to take advantage of some of their experiences?
Bruno: Well, the private sector as well as the public education system - RPI and SUNY - are taking the lead around here in sophisticated communications. I think we should form some kind of a partnership so we don't duplicate services. If we could do this, everyone would get so much more from their investment. We are going to be taking the lead in that if others don't. People tend to make more mistakes working in isolation. That is why we would like to coordinate some of these efforts. It's the biggest challenge and this governor has the opportunity to help pull it together.
GT: Are there any initiatives currently on the horizon?
Bruno: There are a number of them, but I can't give you the specifics. They get caught in the politics of trying to get something to happen. They get trapped in turf wars - who can do it best, who can do the most, who's the furthest advanced. What we need is to put our heads together and work toward a common goal. That is the challenge for this governor and for us as leaders.