Council could elevate tech policy

A new Technology Council featuring the leaders of several Commerce Department agencies could centralize technology policy development at the department and promote U.S. technological innovation. The Bush administration proposed the council in its fiscal year 2008 budget request.

The leaders of component agencies at Commerce would meet at regular intervals to coordinate policy decisions and promote U.S.-developed technologies in the world economy, according to administration officials. The council would  replace the Technology Administration (TA) and Office of Technology Policy. Both organizations were effectively not funded in the administration’s fiscal 2008 budget proposal.

The council would consist of 10 agency officials and would include the director of National Institute of Standards and Technology, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The council would report to the deputy secretary of commerce.

Several former Commerce officials said the council might fulfill the role for which the department’s TA was created — somewhat unsuccessfully.

The proposed council “has got the right players in the sense that it brings together all the technology elements of the department,” said Alan Balutis, former deputy chief information officer at Commerce. He is now a distinguished fellow and director of North American public-sector consulting at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group.

Balutis, who helped create the TA, said Commerce was unable to place certain agencies, including the USPTO, under its umbrella. It was basically a hobbled organization, he said. In recent years, the agency has taken major funding hits.

The agency “was almost doomed to failure from the beginning because it had lost the intellectual property aspects from the USPTO” and the telecommunications presence represented by Commerce’s NTIA, Balutis said.

Several former officials at TA, however, say they oppose the council’s creation, arguing that it could not perform the analytical functions that the TA handles.
“Eliminating the systems of innovation and the policy-making role from the federal government and the council is no replacement” for the TA, said Kelly Carnes, former assistant secretary of technology at Commerce from 1997 to 2001.

Balutis said the mission of the council could be undermined if agencies didn’t take it seriously and relegated tasks to assistants or representatives.

A representative of NIST said the proposed council and other organizational changes in the president’s budget proposal would not affect operations at NIST or the National Technical Information Service.

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