High-tech leaders bring their issues to president-elect

WASHINGTON -- President-elect George W. Bush is reaching out to high-tech companies after filling his Cabinet with people who are mostly from so-called Old Economy firms.

In Austin, Texas, yesterday, Bush met with about 15 technology leaders, including Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer Corp., IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner and Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett Packard Co., for what was described by some participants as a freewheeling discussion on high-tech issues, including education, privacy, research and development, tax credits, trade and intellectual property protection.

Many of those who attended the meeting are Bush supporters, giving rise to the idea that the two-hour meeting was payback for that support.

"That wasn't the case. He was listening to people that he felt he could trust," said meeting attendee Dick Egan, CEO of EMC Corp., an information-storage company in Hopkinton, Mass.

Egan, who supported Bush, said the president-elect took notes and asked questions. Egan got the sense that Bush and his staff were eyeing people at that meeting for possible administration appointments.

During the campaign, Bush supported the idea of establishing a government CIO position to coordinate and standardize federal IT, and he was encouraged by the high-tech executives at the meeting to stick with that plan.

But it's also possible that Bush may appoint a second IT official to a position advising the new administration on tech policy, said high-tech industry sources. One contender for such a post would be Floyd Kvamme, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park, Calif., who was also at the meeting, the sources said.

Bush, however, didn't reach out to the high-tech community in picking his top Cabinet chiefs.

"Most people are taking the attitude of 'Let's not jump the gun in reaching conclusions. Let's wait and see if there is going to be a tech czar, is there going to be some high-level appointment?" said Jeff Modisett, the Democratic head of the bipartisan high-tech policy group TechNet in Palo Alto, Calif. "It's more a matter of having someone who can articulate the needs and the visions of the New Economy, so that when many different decisions are made, there is the right sort of input," he said.

Education, particularly issues pertaining to kindergarten through high school, dominated much of yesterday's meeting, and Bush was urged to raise educational standards, particularly in math and sciences. Many high-tech leaders believe "the federal government should play a bigger role in education," said Egan.

Regulatory issues were also raised, especially privacy, and here Bush was urged to allow self-regulation to continue, but if legislation is needed, it should pre-empt state laws, said Egan.

Greg Slayton, CEO of ClickAction Inc., a messaging company in Palo Alto and a major Bush supporter, said yesterday's meeting sends a good signal to the high-tech sector. Slayton, who was at the meeting, added that Bush told the group that " 'this is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.' "

"I think it bodes very, very well for the future of the industry," Slayton said.

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