Classic Conservative

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

Classic Conservative

Still, just as responsibility for technology policy is distributed more or less evenly among a core of senior officials, there isnt a single technology issue or suite of related issues that the administration is particularly focused upon. In contrast, the Clinton administration was fixated upon telecommunications deregulation during Clintons first term and on fostering e-commerce through a well-documented international laissez-faire approach in its second term. Instead, the Bush administration grazes the smorgasbord of technology issues with equanimity.

And, based on the presidents budget, it appears he does not believe government involvement in science and technology R&D is of paramount importance to the high-tech industry. While he calls for the National Institutes of Health budget to balloon, he proposes to hold roughly steady the federal investment in R&D funneled through the National Science Foundation. That infuriates many in science and technology research, particularly because the economic downturn has forced many companies to dramatically scale back their research budgets. Clinton, on the other hand, dedicated increasing amounts of money to science and technology research during his tenure.

In this regard, Bush fits into a classic conservative mold, Harvards Hart said. Democrats — starting at the state and local levels in the 1980s, when manufacturers began decamping en masse for overseas plants — have tended to see government investment in technology-related ventures as economic fertilizer. As factories idled, Democratic politicians — who became known as "Atari Democrats" — aimed to bring them roaring back to life with technology companies. Many Republicans, on the other hand, tend to view government investment in private enterprise as redundant and wasteful, he said.

Bushs overall hands-off approach is reminiscent of Ronald Reagans method of governance, he said. One problem with that conservative approach, however, is "when bad things happen, your only counsel is to say, Do less, which is unsatisfying for a lot of people."

When Bush does address technology matters, its usually in the context of his broad themes for economic recovery. During his first major White House speech before high-tech executives in March, Bush touted his tax plan and his vision for education reform as important steps that would free up more money for technology companies and ensure that they have a highly trained work force. He also stumped for energy reform, painting the transformation of the energy industry as a central concern for the technology industry. Shortly after taking office, Bush traveled to Silicon Valley in February for a much-publicized summit with technology and Internet industry leaders. Earlier this month, he met with technology executives to talk up Trade Promotion Authority, a right that Congress can grant to presidents that gives them more freedom in cutting deals with other countries during nettlesome international trade negotiations.

Theres no question that, for now, these are the legs of the Bush approach to technology: tax relief, energy, education and free trade.

Kvamme confirmed that the presidents focus revolves around the economy at large, although he said Bush is engaged in some of the specific technology policy issues that are roiling on Capitol Hill, such as broadband regulation and privacy.

"As for broadband," he said, "were just getting our act together, you might say, and gathering information. Ive sat in numerous meetings trying to figure out what role government could or should have there. Its not totally clear right now. Were hoping to have a better idea in a few months."

The president identified Kvamme as the person industry should contact to send broadband-related messages back to the White House, Kvamme said. Hes also the industry-to-White House liaison on the issue of privacy.

"Particularly, privacy gets brought up" by the president, he said. "The bottom line is that with this new communications mechanism, weve got to make sure people are comfortable with that. Thats the one the president specifically asks me to get input from folks on."


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