Hands Off

Hopes fade for active Bush tech policy

Those expecting the much-awaited appointments of the Bush administrations technology policy team were disappointed after a press conference last week at the White House.

At the meeting, President George W. Bush did announce that Silicon Valley venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme, who during the 1999-to-2000 election cycle sprinkled nearly $200,000 on Republican candidates and causes, will volunteer to help head a White House advisory council on technology and science.

The president also championed easing export restrictions on high-powered computers and threw his support behind a permanent research and development tax credit.

"We want the R&D credit to be permanent, and were working with members of the Senate to do so," Bush told the crowd of assembled high-tech executives. "A lot of us in this administration have been in the world of taking risk. We understand that one of the most important parts about government policy is that there will be certainty in the policy."

Bush also said: "Science and technology have never been more essential to the defense of the nation and the health of our economy. I will hear the best scientific and technological advice from leaders in your field."

But as weeks have turned into months, with most of the key government technology posts still lacking appointments and Bushs budget calling for skimpy federal investment in technology R&D, criticism has been mounting that the president is only paying lip service to the issue.

Rob Atkinson, vice president at centrist Democrat think tank the Progressive Policy Institute and director of its Technology & New Economy Project, said the reason Bush did not go into details is because "he has nothing to define."

"As long as he is governing as a really supply-side conservative, which he is now, we wont see a New Economy agenda coming out of the administration," Atkinson said. "This is an administration that wants to run the country like a well-oiled corporation. The only problem is the well-oiled corporation is General Motors, not Cisco [Systems]."

Bush champions, on the other hand, said that, if nothing else, the presidents high-tech agenda will likely translate into a hands-off approach, which they welcome.

Marc Holtzman, Colorados secretary of technology, who attended the meeting, said: "The presidents approach is not to pick winners in the economy, but to set preconditions upon which all industry can succeed."

Holtzman said there was "almost unanimous consensus in that room" that the presidents tax-cutting plan "will be positive on the technology sector."

He was seconded by Bob Herbert, former chief operating officer at Microsoft. "The best thing the government can do is get out of the way," Herbert said, predicting that Bushs inclination, when it comes to high-tech, will be to leave it alone.