I had just sat down with Gov. Jeb Bush in his wood-paneled office when I remarked that, following our interview, Id like to check out the digital picture frame I heard he has on his desk. Without a moments hesitation, the governor jumped up and beckoned me to follow him to his "real office." I trailed him into a small anteroom off the official digs, filled with family pictures, dozens of toys (including 10 stuffed manatees) and stacks of budget documents.
Sitting atop the Florida governors L-shaped desk is an IBM ThinkPad, a sleek, 19-inch flatscreen LCD monitor and a Cieva digital picture frame that he uses to exchange digital photos with his famous parents and other friends and relatives. The first picture in todays slide show is of his mom.
The governor - just "Jeb" to friends and political foes alike - has for years used technology extensively in his daily life. He regularly gives out his private e-mail address, meaning anyone listening to him on a radio call-in show has about the same electronic access to him as his brother and father, our current and former presidents.
In Florida, Bush is without question the main driver and cheerleader of the states electronic government program. A top aide admitted that because the governor knows more about technology than all but two or three of his senior staff, he occasionally has to tutor them on technology subjects, such as the virtues of enterprise resource planning.
Although Bush has his critics, no one disputes his commitment to overhauling state government. "He looks at government like a big dysfunctional business," said a longtime aide. "Some people incorrectly interpret his zeal to reform government as animus toward government."
Bush is a policy wonk extraordinaire, reading think tank studies and policy books like other people read murder mysteries and romance novels. After reading something particularly enlightening, he often assigns it to his senior staff - and has been known to give pop quizzes. He once sent a special technology issue of Forbes magazine to all his senior staffers with a note: "Are we using technology as well as we can? Can you think of ways you can use technology better to improve your operations?"
Soon after coming into office, Bush laid out a series of what he calls "BHAGs;" or "Big Hairy Audacious Goals." In just two and half years as governor, Bush has revamped affirmative action, pushed through far-ranging education reforms, cut taxes by over $1 billion, taken on civil service reform, reduced the state workforce by about 5 percent and changed the way the state acquires and manages technology - and he says hes just getting started.
His upcoming race for re-election - certain to be one of the more closely watched races next year - will determine whether Florida citizens are ready to let Bush continue the relentless pace of change.
Government Technology: Youve been using e-mail since the early 1990s, when few politicians even knew what e-mail was. To what do you attribute this interest?
Bush: Its been a personal productivity tool for me. I have a sense of urgency about changing things, and Ive found that, as technology advances, Ive been increasingly productive along with it. I give out my e-mail address to people; its not the government e-mail address, although thats easier now too with myflorida.com. I give out my private e-mail in speeches - I tell people to write to me.
GT: And you dont have another private e-mail account?
Bush: No, thats it. Since 2:00, Ive received 48 e-mails and I probably get 300 a day. I read them. I dont write novels back to people, but its a way to stay connected, a way to listen, a way to manage.