Bush Courts High-Tech Companies, Ponders Posts

But fills Cabinet with Old Economy pros

President-elect George W. Bush is making efforts to reach out to high-tech companies, after filling his Cabinet with executives largely from Old Economy firms.

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Waiting Game

High-tech companies are waiting to see how loud of a voice they will have in the Bush administration.

IT Czar or Adviser?

Bush is eyeing the creation of a high-tech policy post.

CIO:

A federal CIO post was promised during the campaign, has support in Congress and will likely be acted upon quickly.

Ongoing Meetings:

Bush is promising regular meetings with high-tech industry.

Last week in Austin, Texas, Bush met with more than a dozen technology leaders, including Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer Corp. in Round Rock, Texas; Lou Gerstner, chairman of IBM; and Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co.

The gathering was described by some participants as a freewheeling discussion of high-tech issues, including education, privacy, research and development tax credits, trade and intellectual property protection. Many at the meeting were Bush supporters, giving rise to the idea that the two-hour event 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., a data storage vendor in Hopkinton, Mass.

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

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

But according to IT industry sources, Bush may appoint a second IT official, possibly Floyd Kvamme, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park, Calif., to a position advising the new administration on tech policy.

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

"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, 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."

Greg Slayton, CEO of Palo Alto-based messaging company ClickAction Inc. and a major Bush supporter, said last week's meeting sends a positive signal. "I think it bodes very, very well for the future of the industry," he said.

Industry sources, privacy groups and other tech watchers contacted by Computerworld last week said none of Bush's appointments raise any tech-specific issues, with the exception of Bush's choice for attorney general—John Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri.

Ashcroft is considered to be somewhat of a libertarian on tech issues. If confirmed, he may review controversial Clinton administration projects, such as the FBI's Carnivore e-mail monitoring system, as well as U.S. involvement in the Council of Europe cybercrime treaty, which has raised privacy and business concerns.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said his group is backing Ashcroft because it expects him to be particularly sensitive to the commercial implications of law enforcement issues.

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