Eric Schmidt rumored to be contender for Commerce Secretary

Outgoing Google CEO, Obama supporter may be on short list for Cabinet job


Google released this photo of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, on the day it announced that Page will replace Schmidt as the company's CEO. It said the photo was taken earlier Thursday, with the men sitting in one of Google's self-driving cars.

Should a guy who revels over his company getting "right up to the creepy line" regarding user privacy be on the short list for a powerful government job in Washington, D.C.?

(Also see: Google settles class-action lawsuit over Buzz)

One would hope not, but according to Bloomberg, President Obama is considering outgoing Google chief executive Eric Schmidt for Commerce Secretary to replace Gary Locke, who has been nominated by the president to be U.S. ambassador to China.

There are other contenders, including former Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

It's common for presidents to choose business executives to run the Department of Commerce. In addition to that qualification, Schmidt also has other things going for him as a candidate for the job, according to Bloomberg:

Schmidt gave $25,000 to Obama’s inaugural committee, and he has regularly consulted with the president on economic matters. That includes a December meeting with 20 executives in Washington and a smaller dinner with a dozen leaders of the technology industry last month at the California home of venture capitalist John Doerr.

So he's not some unknown, dark-horse candidate for the post. Plus the timing is good, since Schmidt is stepping down next month as CEO of the search giant.

But Schmidt over the past year has made a number of public comments that betray a cavalier attitude toward Google user data, creating heightened distrust of the company among electronic privacy advocates. Some have speculated that Schmidt's decision to turn over the reins to Google co-founder Larry Page may have stemmed in part from the negative fallout his comments on privacy have generated.

Within the historical context of Washington sleaze, going "right up to the creepy line" is child's play. There have been innumerable powerful players in D.C. who have stomped all over the creepy line and then gone so far beyond that they couldn't even see it in their rear-view mirrors (cough, Newt Gingrich, cough).

So from that perspective, Schmidt's stance on privacy hardly disqualifies him from a Cabinet post. Still, it'd be nice if Washington set the bar a little higher for a change. Don't hold your breath.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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