WASHINGTON – President Bush recently named Floyd Kvamme, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to be the co-chairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The President announced the appointment at a technology summit held in late March, which was attended by 150 technology leaders including several venture capitalists.
Comprised mostly of private citizens, PCAST advises the President on science and technology issues and reports to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a cabinet-level group of presidential advisors on technology-related issues.
An NSTC member, the assistant to the president for science and technology, is historically the only federal employee in PCAST and shares the chairperson responsibilities of the group.
President Bush’s emphasis on the private sector suggests that he will continue the mostly private sector membership of the council, but he has not yet issued the executive order to establish PCAST or set its parameters.
To date, Kvamme sits alone on PCAST, but this committee seems to take a while to gather steam. President Clinton’s PCAST was not established until November of his first year in office.
Under President Clinton, 18 private sector thought-leaders, including business people, academics and scientists, sat on the committee along with the science advisor. The previous Bush administration designed the committee to hold 11 private-sector members plus the science advisor.
Insiders expect President Bush’s committee to resemble the previous two PCASTs, a group with heritage going back to President Truman, who was the first president to establish a scientific advisory committee. Following the Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower elevated the committee to its current executive status.
The members of the committee typically come from a worldly background which allows them to understand not only science and technology but also the larger implications of their recommendations. They often come from high-level positions within their organizations.
John Young, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, co-chaired Clinton’s PCAST, which included university presidents, chief executive officers, research scientists and even former astronaut Sally Ride.
Typically each president decides the role of the committee. Clinton’s PCAST met three times in 2000 and 1999 and met five times in 1998. Insiders said the former President Bush’s PCAST met more frequently, and he was more active with the group.
Kvamme is also a director of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), which showed excitement over the opportunity to have VC interests represented at such a high level in the administration. They said no other president had appointed VCs to the PCAST.
“Floyd is one of the few people who not only truly understands the high-tech industry and the venture industry, but also understands how Washington works,” said Jeanne Metzger, NVCA vice president of business development and public affairs.
Metzger said that Kvamme will be able to bridge gaps between different areas of the government, unite government and technology interests and bring the concerns of Silicon Valley to Washington.
Mark Heesen, president of the NVCA called the PCAST announcement “a step in the right direction toward raising the executive branch’s overall commitment to our nation’s technology issues.”
“Through this Council, the administration can more effectively respond, along with the legislative branch, to trends in the technology sector through public policy and programs,” he said in a statement, adding that Kvamme will be a “true asset to this administration in his new role.”
Kvamme, who was out of the country and could not be reached for comment, supported Bush during his campaign and with his wife has contributed over $200,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee over the past five years, according to Common Cause, a political soft-money watchdog.
However, not all VCs are staunch Republicans. According to the watchdog, other KP Partners John Doerr, Brook Byers and Joe Lacob combined to contribute triple that amount to the Democrats over that time.
Kvamme is also not the only VC to accept an appointment in the Bush White House. Texas-based Murphree Venture Partners’ Dr. Bill Rice accepted a full-time position and now hangs his coat in an office in the West Wing.
Rice had been on sabbatical from the firm since March 2000, when he assumed a role leading Bush’s “e-campaign” as MVP Managing Partner Dennis Murphree called it. Rice accepted a top technology position in administration and will be in charge of revamping the technology infrastructure for the executive branch.
Rice and Murphree both attended the technology summit where Bush announced Kvamme’s appointment. Bush used the meeting as a chance to comment on his “high-tech agenda.”
His comments included references to tax rebates and spending reductions which he proposes in support of small businesses. He also mentioned amendments to current restrictions on exporting computer technologies, creating broader international markets for technology companies.
Bush plugged a research and development credit and his efforts for education reform. Education initiatives included greater local control, performance-based testing for programs receiving federal aid and increased funding for remedial education.
“Science and technology have never been more essential to the defense of the nation and the health of our economy,” President Bush said. “I will hear the best scientific and technological advice from leaders in your field, and I can think of no better coordinator than Floyd. He is an entrepreneur. He is a risk-taker. He understands risk and reward.”