- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Donald Upson made history when he became the nation's first Cabinet-level technology secretary in 1998.
With his job as Virginia secretary of technology coming to an end tomorrow, Mr. Upson is likely to become part of the tech industry he helped nurture under former Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Just what Mr. Upson ends up doing remains to be seen, but he is nearly certain he will start a technology services company in Northern Virginia when he steps aside and Electronic Data Systems Vice President George Newstrom takes over.
"It's a start-up. I think it has a reasonable chance for success, but there's no guarantee," Mr. Upson said.
Mr. Upson, 47, already has experience with start-ups. After Mr. Gilmore authorized the new technology post with an executive order, Mr. Upson had to give the new office shape in more ways than he expected.
He tried for five weeks to get paint and carpet for the four offices he and his staff occupy.
He made calls for more than two months simply to get "secretary of technology, fifth floor" added to the directory in the lobby of the state building in Richmond where they set up shop.
But he still had to define the job, which was intended to encourage the growth of the state's tech industry and to figure out how the state could better use information technology.
Others had a different idea. He fielded calls from misinformed secretaries in the governor's office who wondered whether Mr. Upson could fix their broken fax machines or tinker with their computers.
"People weren't sure what this office would be doing," said Caroline Boyd, Virginia's assistant secretary of technology.
One of its major achievements was guiding a series of meetings of the Governor's Commission on Information Technology. The effort resulted in a slew of bills that make up the Virginia Internet Policy Act. Among other measures, the bills prohibit unsolicited e-mail, make it illegal to use encryption in the commission of a crime and extend online privacy provisions.
"That put us on the map," Mr. Upson said.
Virginia also was the first state to pass a law governing electronic business transactions.
Mr. Upson "was energetic, he had an agenda and he executed it," said Michael Daniels, vice president of Science Applications International Corp., a San Diego company with a federal information technology practice in the Washington area. Mr. Daniels sat on the governor's commission on information technology.
Just as important as the laws state officials promoted, Mr. Upson tirelessly touted Virginia as an Internet state, said Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
And it stuck.
"There are plenty of states with technology firms. But when people think of technology, they think of Silicon Valley, Austin, Virginia and Boston. We are now in the top tier and it's because of what [Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Upson] did," Mrs. Kilberg said.
Looking back, it was a lot for a Richmond novice to tackle.
Mr. Upson, an assistant to former Rep. Frank Horton, a retired New York Democrat, a Republican staff director of the House Government Operations Committee and a marketing vice president for the former information technology firm Litton PRC, built a career in Washington that began in 1977.
"I didn't know much at all about Richmond. I could barely drive to Richmond. I had been there three times," Mr. Upson said.
He may not have had a firm sense of direction then, but now other states are following Virginia's lead. At least two states California and Colorado have appointed a secretary of technology.
After this week, Mr. Upson begins concentrating on his next move. He could entertain offers for jobs at tech firms, but he prefers to start his own company after a short break, and he has been figuring out what form a new company would take. It is likely to be consultant that helps technology firms find new business and market products and services to other businesses, to state and federal government agencies and to foreign markets.
"It's what I want to do," he said. "There are a lot of good companies with good products and services. Sometimes they just lack the ability to get to distribution channels or get to the right people in the companies they want to do business with."
He also wants to have a piece of the action rather than nurture the industry by helping develop policy and helping find business for others.
"It was a hard decision to take the job in the first place because there was nothing there before. And then you watch anyone with an idea" start a technology company, he said.
Now it's his turn.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide