A New Driver On The Tech Policy Road

In George W. Bush, Internet leaders have the hands-off president
they want. Will the real New Economy follow suit?

Originally published at Silicon Alley Reporter
By K. Daniel Glover

Last October, 440 high-tech executives cast their political lot with Vice President Al Gore by publicly endorsing the man who said he “took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Led by the likes of Netscape Communications founder Marc Andreesen, who said Netscape would not have emerged without Gore’s help in securing government backing for technology research, the executives said no one in Washington knew technology better than Gore.

BushTechPolicyA month earlier, the campaign of now-President George W. Bush had placed a full-page newspaper ad in the heart of Silicon Valley touting Bush’s popularity in high-tech circles. It responded to Gore’s endorsement boast with one of its own — that Bush’s high-tech endorsements also had grown to 440 and that Gore’s “last-minute list of names cannot begin to equal the longevity, policy input and grassroots activism of Governor Bush’s 440-member high-tech advisory council.”

That tit-for-tat endorsement snapshot of Campaign 2000 demonstrated that the technology community was as evenly divided as the nation when it came to picking a president. Individual executives stood by their men, yet the technology community as a whole would have been content with either candidate in the White House. But now that Bush is in the White House, with an almost evenly split Congress, the question is how he will reshape the information age policies of a Clinton-Gore administration that voters only half-heartedly rejected.

The Bush agenda
The high-tech plan Bush and his advisory council crafted during last year’s presidential campaign offered a few glimpses into the new president’s thinking on technology and its place in the policy arena. That plan, in fact, said little, and sometimes nothing, about hot-button issues like privacy, Internet taxation, and Napster-induced chatter about the place of intellectual property in the “new economy.”

Instead, Bush emphasized — and then often vaguely — broad policies that are as important to the business community as a whole as to the technology industry. His campaign opus on “technology and the new economy” preached the gospel of tax cuts, trade policy, litigation reform, the research and development tax credit, and export controls.

During the campaign, Bush shared his vision for the role of technology in education while criticizing the Clinton administration for missing “the real divide” in educational achievement and focusing almost exclusively on wiring schools. He also talked at length about his plans for electronic government in the context of his larger plan for government reform. And in his New Freedom Initiative, Bush promised to make the world more accessible to the disabled by, among other things, helping them buy computers.

Short of vows to provide more funding for certain programs, however, Bush rarely divulged specific policy prescriptions on the tech issues he chose to address. And when he did, it was on issues like H-1B visas to allow more foreign workers, and thus more technology experts, into the United States, an issue that became moot when Congress and President Clinton ultimately resolved it with a new law.

Bush met with technology leaders Jan. 4 and “assured them that I’d be available to take their phone calls, and I look forward to listening to them.” On the same day, Donald Evans, Bush’s commerce secretary, in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, vowed not to “procrastinate” on issues such as privacy legislation and extending the Internet tax moratorium, which expires in October of this year.

On March 28, Bush fulfilled a pledge to high-tech supporters by appointing one of their own to a senior position in the administration. E. Floyd Kvamme, a partner at the Silicon Valley-based venture-capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, will be co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

But some observers are convinced that technology, and specifically Internet-related issues, will be a secondary concern to Bush. As a campaigner, Bush earned a reputation for staying on message. Tech issues that did not fall within his broader campaign themes received short shrift — and they are not likely to get any more attention in his administration.