wonk (n): one who is well-versed in policy arcana
President, Progress & Freedom Foundation
Home: Oakton, Va.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the prestigious Claremont McKenna College in California; Ph.D. in economics from University of Virginia
Political heroes: Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and — strangely — Ira Magaziner, the former Clinton administration technology and health policy czar
Favorite Web sites: MSN.com, CNNfn.com
Jeffrey Eisenach has a beard and a ponytail, and he doesnt always wear a tie. In a city like Washington, D.C., where pedigree — "Hello. Harvard or Yale?" — and appearances — dark suit, white shirt, red tie, gleaming shoes, news anchor hair — are the coin of the realm, this means the standard political creature of Washington might confuse him for, oh, an ax murderer. But no, Eisenach is just a wonk.
Hes a libertarian high-tech policy brainiac with sterling conservative credentials. He has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Virginia, teaching stints at Harvard University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and tenure at prominent think tanks. Hes also had several tours of government duty at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Reagan White House, culminating as the chief of staff to James C. Miller III, the then-director of the Office of Management and Budget. For the uninitiated, the OMB is the presidents vast, overeducated army of administrative taskmasters. They run the government. Its wonk heaven.
Now, Eisenach is the president of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, which has been thrashing about in the technology policy wonk pit with glee and vigor since Eisenach helped found the think tank-cum-advocacy organization in 1993.
Thats 1993 — the year former President Bill Clinton began his eight-year stewardship of the federal government. Thats eight long years of ham-handed government interference for a libertarian like Eisenach, who, when asked who his political heroes were, announced immediately: "Reagan."
But the conservatives are back in business in the White House, and telecommunications policy — a strong suit of Eisenach and the PFF — is in full ferment on Capitol Hill. Eisenach has seen a PFF associate, George Mason University law professor Tim Muris, nominated to be the head of the FTC.
So, Eisenachs star is rising in D.C. In the past month, he was placed on the board of advisers at the George Mason University School of Laws Tech Center, which examines intersections of technology, regulation and law, and he was named a contributing editor at the conservative American Spectator magazine, where hell get a chance to preach to the choir.
During an interview in his Reagan-paraphernalia-festooned corner office in PFFs K Street suite, Eisenach was ebullient and hyperkinetic about telecommunications policy and the need for the government to get out of the way.
He blames regulators for the telecommunications sectors dramatic and alarming collapse. "Bill Kennard and Reed Hundt are responsible," he says, citing the two previous chairmen at the Federal Communications Commission.
Hundt, for example, had a "bias for creating small, new phone companies to enter the last mile for services. He set up a policy regime encouraging people with no business being there setting up phone companies" as if it were as easy as "launching a Web site," Eisenach says.
He adds: "One hundred billion dollars in real resources were flushed down the toilet due to a policy failure."
Antitrust is another topic that stirs Eisenach and the PFF, but their position doesnt always meld with the conservative mainstream. Microsoft, he says, is a monopoly that should be subject to antitrust actions taken by federal regulators.
"Antitrust," he says, "is where you go when you deregulate."