Although conservatives are often elected with the expectation theyll reduce, rather than expand, government, President-elect George W. Bush may find that IT warrants the creation of a subcabinet position of its own.
As they prepare to take over the White House Jan. 20, Bush and his team are considering the creation of a “technology czar” to champion tech policies at the national level. The move shows the new administration has a heightened awareness of the importance of IT, especially in an uncertain economy, said sources in Bushs team.
Word of the high-level tech position began circulating earlier this month after a meeting, called by Bush, with chiefs of some of the countrys largest high-tech companies, including Dell Computer Corp., Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp. The group discussed Bushs economic agenda and the industrys needs, including regulatory issues and a trained high-tech work force.
Sources close to the group said the meeting created a sense of confidence that the Bush administration will provide a forum for the industrys concerns.
“There are some people in Silicon Valley who would like to see [a tech czar], and I dont think its a half-bad idea,” said Richard Wiley, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman who is serving on the transition advisory team.
Early favorites to fill the tech czar job, should it be created, include Pat Wood, chairman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, according to sources close to the Bush team. Also mentioned was former Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., who has since been tapped by Bush to head the Department of Energy.
Although the industry has been pressing, behind closed doors, for a special ally in the White House, companies are reluctant to openly suggest how the incoming president should build his administration.
“Theres going to be a very high level of specific attention to technology issues in the Bush White House,” said Kent Jenkins, a Cisco spokesman in Washington. “What is important here is substance, not form, and the Bush administration has a substantive commitment to technology policy.”
Cisco CEO John Chambers and two other Cisco officials are serving on transition advisory teams for the new administration. Chambers, like many in the transition, contributed heavily to the Bush campaign and to Republican candidates last year. So far, Chambers has used his role primarily to expound on the need for improved public education, Jenkins said.
Having a technology advocate in the executive branch has proved successful at the state level. In 1999, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore named a secretary of technology to coordinate the states own IT endeavors and also to promote the region as an appealing location for IT companies. Recognizing the industry as a powerful source of jobs and economic growth, Gilmore named a czar, in part, to develop a regulatory regime that attracts high tech. In his State of the Commonwealth speech last week, Gilmore said business in Virginia invested an all-time high of $6 billion last year.
At the federal level, an IT policy guru could promote U.S. technology overseas. The czar also could coordinate and streamline the bureaucracy surrounding technology. For example, a national CIO could integrate the unwieldy process of telecommunications merger authorization, said Adam Thierer, one of Bushs transition advisers.
Thierer, director of telecommunications studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said that, depending on how the job is handled, a national tech czar could create new, unproductive bureaucracy or help streamline the bureaucracy.
Like many in the industry, transition team members see the substance of Bushs IT strategy as more important than the structure. “Were finally seeing Washington coming around to realizing what the rest of the world has known for some time: These are the players defining the future of our economy,” Thierer said.