Locke Clears Questions on Security, Broadband
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President Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for his job interview this morning, outlining his plans to turn the department into an "engine of job growth and economic renewal" in a congenial confirmation hearing that seems likely to put him on the fast track for taking a seat in the Cabinet.
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke told the panel that under his direction, the Commerce Department would promote pro-trade policies, clean energy and vigorous IT initiatives.
Locke gave a glossy outline of his hopes for public-private partnerships where businesses, universities and community groups would work with government agencies at all levels to revive the sagging economy.
After the hearing, several Republican staffers told InternetNews.com that they expected Locke would breeze through the confirmation process as early as tomorrow morning. "If there were any major objections, they probably would have come up this morning," one aide said of the collegial hearing.
Locke's confirmation proceeding is of keen interest to the IT industry, as the Commerce Department is now at the center of a massive federal initiative to spur the expansion of high-speed Internet access in regions of the country that are currently underserved or unserved. The recently enacted economic stimulus bill allocated $7.2 billion to that end, of which $4.7 billion is to be administered by the National Telecommunication Information Administration, an agency within the Commerce Department.
The Obama administration has had a tough road in its search for a Commerce secretary. The president's first choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, stepped aside amid a pay-for-play corruption scandal that has cast a shadow over his office.
Obama next reached across the aisle, tapping Republican Sen. Judd Gregg from New Hampshire, only to see him withdraw his nomination as the debate over the stimulus package was raging. Gregg cited fundamental differences with the president in his vision for nursing the economy back to health.
Locke's nomination drew cheers from some corners of the tech industry, including the biggest business in his home state.
"As Governor of Washington, Gary Locke worked with state businesses both large and small to successfully strengthen the states economy and improve its global competitiveness," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said of the appointment late last month.
Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance, offered similar praise, declaring that Locke had shown throughout his career that "IT can provide solutions to pressing issues such as expanding health care to vulnerable children and adults, making government more accessible to the public, and raising academic achievement in our public schools."
Locke offered no specifics on how he plans to steer the NTIA's administration of broadband grants through the stimulus program, but he praised the leadership already in place at the agency for moving ahead swiftly with the process. The NTIA is in the midst of a rapid-fire series of public meetings to solicit comments from interested parties before it sets the final rules for the grant applications.
"The people at the Department of Commerce have already implemented a very transparent very open process of soliciting input from everyone -- no secret meetings, public meetings, [accepting] input and suggestions over the Internet," Locke said. "It's important that in the short timeframe that we have for deployment of these dollars that we involve all the stakeholders."
The stimulus bill directs the NTIA to commit the broadband grant money by the end of fiscal 2010.
"The president has placed a great priority on this and has a great personal interest with respect to bringing advanced modern telecommunications to the entire nation," Locke said. "It is also a priority of this Department of Commerce."
Page 2: Cybersecurity concerns