Tech Team vs

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-07-23 Print this article Print

. Tech Czar"> Tech Team vs. Tech Czar

Bush White House executives deny Harts assertion. They say a high-tech policy team is gelling — officials throughout the administration now spend most of their time slogging through technology policy and gather to talk about it on a regular basis.

In contrast to the Clinton White House, however, there is no senior member of the cabinet shouldering particular responsibility for heavy lifting with regard to technology policy. Besides having Gore as a de facto "tech czar," Clinton had senior White House officials focused solely on Internet and e-commerce issues. They were not only points of contact for domestic companies, but advisers like Ira Magaziner traveled the world, helping to set complementary international agendas.

"With this administration, there is no coherent message at all, and there is nobody I can find or talk to who has a clear understanding of where things are going or what the theme is going to be," said Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the Media Access Project, a public-interest telecommunications law firm dedicated to free-speech issues.

Said Ari Schwartz, a senior policy analyst of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a centrist cyberspace civil liberties organization: "Even when you talk to people who work for the administration, a lot of the career people dont know who to send you to. They say, Well get back to you next month, or, Were narrowing down that position right now. It goes on and on, month after month."

Similar complaints have traveled through Washington for several months, though few corporate representatives choose to air their grievances to the media. Maintaining friendships with the White House is important.

"The only problem weve had is letting them get in and get settled," said Intel spokesman Chuck Malloy. "You run into that with any administration."

One former Clinton aide, however, said the U.S. is "losing global leadership" on Internet issues because of the new administrations lack of involvement.

"When you have a vacuum where nobody is talking about this stuff, I think it hurts," said Larry Irving, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce. While there are bright lower-level employees toiling on technology policy, so far, the administrations "elephants," or the high-level heavy hitters with powerful political currency, arent interested in technology policy the way Gore and Clintons Commerce Secretaries Ron Brown and William Daley were.

"You have to have principals at the table, but they arent engaged," he said. "Youve got the point guards, but you dont have the inside players who can take it to the hole."

The Bush administration, however, insists that its lack of a technology czar like Gore is not a problem; given the pervasiveness of technology, they think a team approach will be more effective.

"One of the nice things about this White House is that it is a very open place. People are not territorial, and there are a lot of people with a lot of expertise," said Richard Russell, chief of staff of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The office traditionally counsels the president on a wide range of science and technology matters, particularly as they relate to the federal budget. "When an issue comes up, whichever organization in the White House or the agencies that is taking the lead, or that has a great idea, sends an e-mail out to all the people who have expertise or interest in the subject, and people will have a chance to show up and provide input."

Cesar Conda, Vice President Dick Cheneys domestic policy adviser, for example, brings a wealth of experience in technology policy, having worked for former Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., before Abraham lost his bid for re-election last year. Abraham, always active in technology issues, is now Secretary of Energy. Condas expertise is frequently tapped by people throughout the administration, said Russell, regardless of his position in the hierarchy.

Russell and Conda, as well as Kvamme, co-chair of the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and Westine, director of the Office of Public Liaison, have emerged as centers of gravity on technology policy. Other key figures include Larry Lindsey, White House assistant for economic affairs; Bruce Mehlman, assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy; John Ackerly, who works for Lindsey in the Executive Office of the President and who specializes in technology policy; and Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government in the Office of Management and Budget. In addition, once confirmed, Bushs nominee for National Telecommunications and Information Administration director, Nancy Victory, and Phillip Bond, nominated to be the undersecretary of commerce for technology, are expected to play vital roles.

The Bush administration tech gurus, Russell said, "meet whenever necessary. . . . There are lots of meetings."

The White House also celebrates its solid relationship with Kvamme, who advises the president on technology matters, but remains a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, not a White House employee.

Hart, however, called Kvammes appointment — the first prominent technology appointment Bush made — "more symbolic than anything else," describing him as "basically a businessman who is a Republican" who "doesnt know the ins and outs of policy-making, the way you need to, to get something done."

But, perhaps more than Clinton depended upon his PCAST co-chair — John Young, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO — Bush apparently leans on Kvamme to serve as a bridge between the White House and the high-tech industry. Kvamme said he has worked hard since March to ingratiate himself with leaders throughout government — in the White House, in the agencies and on Capitol Hill — and to discern where the different technology issues reside and what they are.

His role will change somewhat once Marburger, named be the other co-chair of PCAST, is confirmed as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Then, Kvamme and Marburger can start organizing the council. But Kvamme said the president envisions him delivering to the White House the issues, problems and concerns dogging technology industrialists. Kvamme said he has been to Washington three times in the past six weeks, for two-day or three-day stints.

"I have to admit, the openness has been amazing," he said. "We have not had trouble getting meetings with anybody, from Mitch Daniels [director of the all-powerful Office of Management and Budget] to cabinet secretaries. They are all happy to chat. Larry Lindsey is very excited about technology."


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