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G. William Hoagland: Staff Director of the Senate Budget Committee and Advisor to the Senate Majority Leader

Photo of Bill Hoagland

“I accept that that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Interviewed by Senate historian Donald Ritchie, Hoagland comments on the advantages and disadvantages of changing technology in the Senate.

HOAGLAND: When I first came here there was no such thing as computers. There was no such thing as email. People wrote the memorandums and used white out and typed over if you were sending out a memo. A Selectric typewriter is something that’s just unbelievable to still see around here.

RITCHIE: Only in a historical office.

HOAGLAND: So I think that there’s a lot to be said about how technology changed things. The other thing that changed dramatically was going from the squawk boxes and just having the sound on the floor versus the TV. The one thing that maybe Howard Baker and I would disagree with, I’m still not sure to this day that was the right decision [to televise Senate floor proceedings]. It’s too late now. You’re never going to turn that back. But what it did was on the floor more than anything else it seemed people were playing for the TV. So now you have these chart shows on the floor, all these charts. When I went to school you used a chart to educate and you didn’t use it for props. Clearly, I don’t think we would have had pictures of Katrina on the floor of the United States Senate, literally pictures, they weren’t charts, they were pictures, on the floor before TV.

I accept that that’s the way it’s going to be. BlackBerrys constantly in touch, tethered to you. You’re always on call, 24/7. No time for yourself. I don’t know how I made it with raising two young children while I was up here. They’re grown now and they’re out on their own, and they’re doing fine, so I guess my wife had a lot more to do with it than I did. But you see it’s for a young person up here now. A person who doesn’t have family commitments and is not as involved in their community. Not their church or their local community. This is their life. You are the Senate life. And I must admit that I was pretty subsumed by it too. But all this activity and things, over time, I honestly can’t say I don’t know if the legislative outcome, the legislation as it developed, was it any better quality-wise than it was when we didn’t have all of this technology and activity?

Let me be fair, there are good things about technology. The ability for a lot of the work in the budgetary world, I’m so thankful for the technology and the computers to be able to tabulate and display quickly as compared to the old days when the budget arrived, it was this nightmare. All night long and all the way through with white outs and changes. So there are positive aspects to this but at the same time I’m just not totally convinced that the product is that much better or more thought through today than it was before all of this came about. Time goes on and I’m sure it will be fine, but those are the changes that stand out in my mind.