Al Gore Sees Government As Technology `Facilitator'

AL GORE JR.'s plan for the "information superhighway" is the biggest technology effort sponsored by a vice president since Lyndon Johnson championed the space program during the Kennedy administration.

Mr. Gore wins high marks for calling attention to the strategic need for a high-speed communications infrastructure - the so-called information superhighway. "He was looking at it 10 years before I was," confesses Andrew Grove, who heads Intel Corporation. "That's pretty reassuring."

Adds Motorola chairman George Fisher: "I think the federal government has to do a lot of what Al Gore and President Clinton have been doing lately: Really raise the visibility of these issues."

So how does Vice President Gore view the technology position of the United States? His answers in this telephone interview introduce the Monitor's special report on America's high-tech policy challenges, which begins on Page 9.

Have America's high-tech industries stopped their downward skid?

That's true in some areas and not in others. We have achieved a few successes in recent years. Sematech is an example of how an effective new partnership between the public and private sector can reverse the decline in a key industry that is dependent on high technology. Learning the lessons of Sematech means creating the same kind of partnership approach in other areas where the US decline is unfortunately still continuing. I think we're on the eve of a new era. [But] we have to make these changes first .

What is government's role?

Private industry will take the lead role, of course, and government will play the role of facilitator and enabler.

What are the specific goals?

We outlined a comprehensive technology policy when the president and I visited Silicon Valley.... We laid out a framework for federal technology programs focused on three broad goals: creating long-term economic growth that creates jobs and protects the environment; No. 2, making government more efficient and more responsive; and No. 3, maintaining world leadership in basic science, mathematics, and engineering.

Some high-tech executives say you are moving too slowly.

We have already begun to implement the changes that were outlined in that policy and we are already seeing a response in the private sector. We have had a long series of meetings with industry groups, who are beginning to shift investment priorities in accord with the vision that President Clinton and I outlined earlier this year. We are already seeing a reallocation of funding within the federal programs by the appointees that have been put in place by the administration. There's a very aggressive new a ttitude in all parts of the federal government.

Will there be a new policymaking body to oversee the administration's high-tech efforts?

We have an informal group that advises the president on these efforts. He has asked me to take charge of the task of overseeing what we're doing in technology. The president's science adviser, who heads the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jack Gibbons, works very closely with the president and with me in helping to coordinate these efforts.... We have a very smooth and effective relationship.

Will this group be formalized?

Not unless it needs to be.

Have you set clean-car goals yet?

The specific numerical goals are still being discussed and they will be the subject of intensive deliberation in which the auto companies are involved.

High-tech executives applaud the leadership you have taken on the information superhighways. Without spending a dime, they say, you've elevated an issue and industry is paying attention. Has government done enough in this area?

The federal government's role ... will be to steer more than to row. We want to set the standards, the protocols, outline the vision, provide direct action where it's obvious that it's not going to get done in any other way, but leave the vast majority of the task to private industry.

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