Valley Gains A Presence in The White House

President Bush has scored big with Silicon Valley by appointing Floyd Kvamme to co-chair the White House's Advisory Committee on Science and Technology.

Kvamme, a born-and-raised San Franciscan, brings an impressive resume to the job. He became part of the core team that took National Semiconductor from a $7 million-a-year transistor maker to a $1.6-billion semiconductor giant and later led National's former computer subsidiary, National Advanced Systems.

He left to run marketing and sales at Apple, helping introduce the Macintosh. In 1984, he became a partner at Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where he divided his time among start-ups, charter schools and chairing pro-business think tank Empower America. Kvamme's now advising Bush on policies to spur U.S. technology businesses.

The following are the major issues on his plate:

H-1B visas and education. Kvamme wants a ready supply of skilled and well-trained IT professionals. The problem is that we haven't been graduating enough engineers to meet demand, even in a slowing economy. Kvamme says he's happy that Congress boosted the number of H-1B visas, but he'll push for more. At the same time, he wants legislation that would include tax incentives to increase the number of engineering graduates.

Taxes. Kvamme advocates eliminating the three-year depreciation write-off for software, allowing companies to expense the cost immediately. This helps the bottom lines of companies that buy software and the IT vendors that sell it. He also wants a permanent research and development tax credit to encourage R&D spending.

But the biggest issue Kvamme will face as chief tech evangelist will be to balance the tech industry's desire to sell and develop more IT with users' ability to support technology during an economic slump.

But around Silicon Valley, the heartland of IT innovation, Kvamme's combination of business pragmatism and technology smarts wins accolades. So, having a familiar face tied to the White House can't hurt.

"He's unpretentious and incredibly smart," says Bruce Mowery, vice president of marketing at Redwood City, Calif.-based "I met him at Apple back in the early 1980s. He was wearing one of those big rodeo belt buckles, but it turned out to be a bronze apple. He was really proud to be there. Heck, he was a geek in a suit."

Kvamme's integrity and easygoing manner is echoed by Mary Ann Byrnes, CEO of San Mateo, Calif.-based Logictier. "When we first met . . . he was engaging and focused on helping my company at the time," she says. "I am impressed by this appointment. He'll be great, and I'm a Democrat."

But Democrat or Republican (Kvamme is a big GOP donor), his effectiveness will be limited by economic events outside his control. Even Silicon Valley should recognize that.

Pimm Fox is Computerworld's West Coast bureau chief. Contact him at

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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