Bush espouses business-friendly view on technology

Computer World –

WASHINGTON -- Nothing in this topsy-turvy election is final until the Electoral College votes Monday and Congress certifies that vote. But it's virtually certain that Texas Gov. George W. Bush will take the oath of office Jan. 20.

One period of anticipation and uncertainty has ended. Another begins. President-elect Bush will now move to put his imprimatur on the executive branch. Bush and his team, including Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, are pressed for time and must concentrate first on major Cabinet and White House appointments. But Bush's influence on technology policy will begin to be felt next year, as he fills sub-Cabinet regulatory posts and begins to shape the national agenda in partnership with Capitol Hill.

"I think Bush understands the Internet and the incredible expansion of global e-commerce," says Jack Kemp, the 1996 GOP vice-presidential nominee.

Bush's electoral triumph will have no immediate impact on pending regulatory matters such as the Federal Trade Commission's review of the merger between Dulles, Va.-based America Online Inc and New York-based Time Warner Inc., or the government's antitrust battle with Microsoft Corp. But his regulatory appointees will shape the government's future posture on antitrust enforcement, among other areas.

Communications policy could undergo major changes when Bush appointees take control of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) next year. Under Republican leadership, the agency is likely to ease ownership limits on cable television, broadcast TV and wireless telephone industries, allowing large companies to consolidate. All three industries are competing to offer broadband services for high-speed Internet access.

Republican FCC Commissioner Michael Powell, son of presumptive Secretary of State Colin Powell, is seen as a candidate for both the FCC chairmanship, succeeding current Democratic Chairman William Kennard, and the assistant attorney generalship for antitrust at the U.S. Department of Justice. Michael Powell previously served as chief of staff to Joel Klein, who departed as the DOJ's antitrust chief after successfully prosecuting a landmark case against Microsoft. Should Microsoft win its appeal, now before a federal appellate court, the Bush administration is seen as less likely to make its own appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first vacancy on the five-member Federal Trade Commission isn't expected to open until next September, when Chairman Robert Pitofsky's term expires. But Bush is expected to name one of the current Republican FTC commissioners, Orson Swindle or Thomas Leary, to replace Pitofsky as interim chairman. Timothy Muris, a law professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., has been mentioned as a candidate for the FTC chairmanship, but could also be chosen to head the Office of Management and Budget.

Former Federal Reserve governor Lawrence Lindsey, a top Bush adviser, is on short lists for either a senior White House economic post, Treasury secretary, or eventual successor to Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Gov. Frank Keating (R-Okla.), is a favorite to become the next U.S. attorney general.

Bush has espoused business-friendly views on technology issues such as online privacy and e-commerce retail sales tax collection. In the words of one senior adviser, Bush "respects the power of the maarketplace" and is "very reluctant to be prematurely intrusive in high-technology areas."

As a candidate, Bush swore an ambiguous fealty to personal privacy and ducked the question of whether a new broad-based Internet privacy law is needed. He also supports an extension of the current moratorium on e-commerce sales taxes. Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.), who headed a blue-ribbon e-commerce tax panel last year, is mentioned as a possibility for Commerce secretary, along with Bush campaign Chairman Don Evans.

Bush will govern in tandem with a Congress that's almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and is still smarting from the inflamed political rhetoric that's been swirling in the capital since Nov. 7. Most of the legislative cards are held by shifting coalitions of moderate Republicans and center-right "New Democrats," who are pro-business and pro-technology. Both major parties are already concentrating on the 2002 mid-term elections, and because Congress will be up for grabs, partisan policy gridlock on issues such as Medicare, Social Security and education could be hard to avoid.

"If there's a place to begin the healing, technology could be the vehicle," says Electronic Industries Alliance president Dave McCurdy.

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