PITAC returns as part of PCAST

President Bush is reviving the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) by folding the committee he let expire last June into the renowned President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The president issued an executive order Sept. 30 announcing that PCAST will now also function as PITAC. The latter group was composed of industry and academic experts appointed by the president. PCAST advises the president on technology, scientific research priorities, and math and science education.

PCAST co-chairman E. Floyd Kvamme, a partner at high-tech venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, said his first priority is to release a report on the progress of IT research and development at the federal level. The assessment was at the forefront of PITAC’s plans before the administration disbanded the committee.

Kvamme plans to launch PITAC-related activities during PCAST’s December meeting. By then, he anticipates the council will have grown to at least 35 members, about 20 of whom will serve on an IT working group. The council currently has 23 members, plus the director of the Executive Office of the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Last Friday's executive order allows PCAST to grow to up to 45 members -- 20 more than previously mandated.

"The whole multidisciplinary nature of science and technology these days makes this a very good move and raises the [profile] of information technology to a new level," Kvamme said.

Most likely, the council would establish an outside technical advisory group to work on IT issues, much like the group of about 50 esteemed government and private-sector nanotechnology scientists whom PCAST selected to assess the national nanotechnology research program. Computer science researchers say that group would be a good model to follow.

Before the reorganization, many observers had been concerned about the timing of the president's decision to dissolve PITAC, saying that inattention to IT research could harm future innovation, U.S. jobs and the country's global competitiveness.

Today, former PITAC members view the change as a potentially positive one that could elevate the role of independent IT advice in the administration.

“PCAST is an extraordinary group of individuals,” said former PITAC co-chairman Ed Lazowska, the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. “What they are able to accomplish in the IT space depends upon who is added to the committee and what priorities the co-chairs establish.”

PCAST members include many prominent figures, such as Dell founder Michael Dell, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Emeritus Charles Vest and Microsoft Executive Vice President Robert Herbold.

Kvamme does not know whom the administration has invited to join PCAST or when it will choose the new appointees. Administration officials have told him they are actively seeking additional experts and that Kvamme will remain as co-chairman.

Lazowska said PCAST's new members must have the same stature and expertise as existing PCAST members if the group is to be effective in overseeing the nation's IT leaders. He has not been asked to join the committee.

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