Cisco exec tapped for high-tech Commerce post

President Bush said yesterday that he would name Bruce Mehlman, telecommunications policy counsel at the Washington office of Cisco Systems Inc., as assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy.

With Department of Commerce Secretary Don Evans seeking to exert a key role in developing the new administration's technology-related policies, Mehlman is likely to become an influential voice in upcoming decisions.

The announcement is hardly a surprise given the closeness of Bush and Cisco CEO John Chambers. Mehlman is also a loyal Republican, having served as general counsel for the House Republican Conference and the National Republican Congressional Committee before joining Cisco in 1999.

So far, Bush has largely stayed away from technology policy questions, focusing on his main priorities of tax cuts and education reform. But along with Mehlman, Bush has brought in some experienced hands, including Caesar Conda, who worked for former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.); Richard Russell, a House Science Committee staffer; and Lezlee Westine, former head of Silicon Valley lobby group TechNet.

The president still has several critical positions to fill, including national science adviser, director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and as many as four vacancies on the Federal Communications Commission.

In the Commerce Department, Mehlman will weigh in on the agency's technology-related responsibilities, including oversight of the government's use of valuable airwave spectrum. Last week, Evans assured major wireless carriers that the government would find a way to accommodate their need for more spectrum to offer advanced wireless services. But government users such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration are loath to surrender any spectrum.

At Cisco, Mehlman worked largely on broadband policy issues, including lobbying the FCC to help wireless carriers that wanted to provide high-speed Internet access.

He also urged regulators to delay requiring changes to telecommunications networks needed by law enforcement agencies to maintain wiretapping capabilities. Cisco and others wanted more time to clarify how the wiretapping standards should apply to unconventional products such as IP telephony.

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