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Promoting Innovation and Competitiveness

Bruce Mehlman, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy, discusses the Tech budget

The Budget & Technology
With Bruce Mehlman
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2002; 3:30 p.m. EST

On Monday President Bush sent Congress a $2.13 trillion budget for 2003, including a more than 13 percent increase in defense spending. Citing the war and recession as reasons for greater government efficiency, Bush's proposed budget would also cut government programs his administration has found to be "ineffective."

Bruce Mehlman, assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy, was online to discuss the president's budget and its effect on the tech industry.

Prior to joining the Department of Commerce, Assistant Secretary Mehlman served as Telecommunications Policy Counsel for Cisco. At Cisco, he worked with public policy leaders and technologists throughout the information technology community on issues of broadband deployment, wireless networking, e-commerce strategies and Internet policy.

Before joining Cisco, Mehlman served as Policy Director and General Counsel at the House Republican Conference, the House of Representatives

A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. Bruce Mehlman will be online at 3:30 p.m. EST to answer your questions and comments.

Bruce Mehlman: Thanks for inviting me to join you today. Washington provides a great example of using technology to empower people, and I'm honored to be your guest.

Washington, D.C.: What specifically does the President's budget do to encourage innovation and development of new technology? It seems to me that technology helped fuel the economic boom of the 1990s and is the key to our economic recovery. Thoughts?

Bruce Mehlman: Technology did indeed help fuel the economic expansion of the 1990s, creating jobs and increasing our standard of living. In fact, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers released an economic report today, and the Commerce Department released a report yesterday, both of which detail the extraordinary economic contributions made by innovation.

The President laid out the Administration's three primary goals in his State of the Union address on January 29th:

  • Winning the war on terrorism;
  • Securing Americans at home; and
  • Restoring economic growth to keep America working.

Clearly, the President believes science and technology have a central role to play in advancing each of these goals, particularly in restoring economic growth.

The 2003 budget reflects our belief in the power and importance of technology, proposing unprecedented investments in R&D ($112 billion, up 8%), major increases in the resources available to the Patent & Trademark Office (up almost 20%), and significant funding for bioterrorism research, among other relevant items.

The President's proposed investments, combined with the technology policy initiatives already announced and under way, make for a robust and aggressive technology agenda.

Dulles, Va.:

  1. It seems government productivity is dropping radically as new information streams (e-mail, voice, Web) are starting to glut IT systems. What are you doing to modernize your existing IT infrasturcture as well as your paper process to adapt to this information explosion?
  2. Based on this information overload, what type of IT enhancements are being developed to deliver more relevent information to the government worker as well as the constiuent?
  3. What are you doing to automate systems that deal with unstructured data(email,web,voice, etc.) so that more can be done with less?
  4. As a technology company focused on this type of personal productivity and system productivity ROI, who is exploring these types of solutions on your behalf?

Bruce Mehlman: Thank you for your four-part question.

  1. In fact, government productivity is on the increase thanks to new information technologies and methods of doing business online. Just as IT has transformed private sector productivity, contributing two-thirds of the productivity growth seen over the second half of the 1990s, federal employees are leveraging IT to do more, faster.
  2. The President clearly believes in the power of IT, making "Expanding E-Government" one of five management priorities for the Administration. That means every manager and leader throughout the Executive Branch needs to make e-government a priority and show results.

    We're putting our money where our mouths are, investing $52 billion in information technology systems across the entire federal government... a 15% increase over last year. At the same time our Office of Management & Budget is leading the charge to integrate IT solutions further into all federal activities.
  3. I am unaware of specific projects to integrate voice, video and data, although the Commerce Department is deploying voice-over-Internet-protocol systems precisely with the hope of realizing the single-architecture efficiencies that come from pure data networks.
  4. The leader of the e-government revolution for the Bush Administration is Mitch Daniels, Director of the Office of Management & Budget. His top lieutenant is Mark Forman. At the Commerce Department Tom Pyke is our CIO, and he's our IT agent of change. These are the folks most engaged in specific federal procurements and IT solutions decisions.

Harrisburg, Pa.: What is your assessment of the future of nanobusiness and research and development in nanotechnologies? Is this potentially a revolutionary industry, or is it an industry with a risky and uncertain future? The federal government is involved in assisting this research. How involved should the federal government be with nanotechnological research?

Bruce Mehlman: Although the hype is at times excessive considering how early in its development we are, nanotechnology stands as the next great frontier for exploration and conquest - perhaps the greatest scientific frontier we've ever faced. The ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level - to build new materials and devices molecule by molecule - promises more change in the next 30 years than we saw in all of the 20th century.

The National Science Foundation predicts the market for nanotech products and services will reach over $1 trillion by 2015 in the United States alone. Leading experts gathered by NSF predicted nanotech's impact will be at least as significant as antibiotics, the integrated circuit and man-made polymers were in the 20th century.

The Bush Administration is very excited about the future of nanotech, investing $679 million (up 61% over 2001). Nine Federal agencies are involved in a cooperative National Nanotechnology Initiative, working closely with academic and industry scientists across the country to advance this research.

Washington, D.C.: Bruce -- Submitting early because I have a meeting. What is the Technology Administration's role in shaping overall administration policy on some of the emerging issues like cyber-security and broadband?

Bruce Mehlman: Thanks for your question.

The Technology Administration works closely with policy leaders in the White House, in the Commerce Department and throughout the executive branch. It is our job to advocate on behalf of innovation and technology within the Bush team. The biggest piece of the Technology Administration is the National Institute for Standards & Technology (NIST), located in Gaithersburg, MD. There a few thousand scientists and engineers (including 2 Nobel prize winners in the last 4 years) work on behalf of our nation. Check our

My much smaller part of the Technology Administration is the Office of Technology Policy. There are three parts to our job:

First, we serve as the portal for the technology community to speak to policy makers. We meet as often as we can with as many innovators, entrepreneurs and technology leaders as we can, listening and learning from them.

Second, we analyze and review what we have heard from different sources, trying to identify consistent trends and issues of greatest significance. We research these issues and attempt to divine fact from fiction, ensuring federal policy makers operate with the most accurate information.

Third, we advocate -- to our colleagues in the policy world on behalf of the technology community, and to the technology community on behalf of the Administration. We seek feedback, offer analytical reports, respresent the US in multi-governmental forums and ensure open lines of dialogue with American innovators and entrepreneurs.

We are working closely with our sister agency, the NTIA, on broadband questions. NTIA is examining supply-side questions of service deployment and regulations. We are examining demand side issues such as digital content and rights management, productivity-enhancing applications and business and consumer adoption trends and barriers.

NIST is doing extensive work on Cyber Security through their Information Technology Lab. They just announced the new Advanced Encryption Standard that will significantly enhance online security. Check out for the great work they're doing.

Wilbraham, Mass.: Mr. Mehlman, welcome. How do you think the cutting of funds that were being used to bridge the digital divide will help in fostering technology? What about the cuts in job training and Pell Grants which were helping Americans -- especially older ones -- get up to speed with new technology? What is the plan? Just import more high tech workers from abroad?

Bruce Mehlman: Thanks for the question.

In fact we are investing very heavily to promote technological access and understanding for all Americans through budget requests at the Agriculture, Defense, Justice & Education departments, among others.

The President proposed $1 billion for technical applications at the Education Department, provding more computers, more Internet access, more technology in schools, and promoting tele-education. In the Agriculture budget there's another $100 million dollars dedicated in loans and grants to fund rural infrastructure, connecting those who are not yet connected.

With respect to the elimination of the $15 million TOP program to which you are probably referring, please remember that the President has laid out the Administration's three primary goals:

  • Winning the war on terrorism;
  • Securing Americans at home; and
  • Restoring economic growth to keep America working.

Certainly some people don't agree with these priorities. Some will question why we spend as much as we do in certain areas such as defense, while others will argue we failed to spend enough on particular projects.

But we cannot fund everything. Tough times make for tough choices.

Clearly, we believe science and technology have a central role to play in advancing each of these goals, and we're investing more in science and technology than at any time in our nation's history. But as Office of Management & Budget Director stated in a February 3rd op-ed in the Post (, we need to shift some resources when priorities change.

As for meeting the nation's robust demand for high tech workers, while we want our most innovative companies to have access to the top talent in the world, we also must be sure American students have opportunities and incentives to pursue careers in science and technology. Importing high tech workers from abroad is not the long-term answer to making America most prosperous and most competitive.

That's why the President offered and passed the bipartisan Leave No Child Behind Act to reform and improve American K-12 education, and that's why we've proposed $200 million in the 2003 budget to improve math and science teaching in the U.S.