- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

The chiefs of some of the nation's top technology companies descended on Washington Thursday to urge the Senate to tackle legislation that would expand trade with China and ease export controls on high-speed computers.

And, in a sign that Internet issues are set to dominate policy debates for the foreseeable future, they released a report calling for greater government attention to other issues like Internet privacy protection and research and development.

The 10 chief executive officers, who comprise a trade association called the Computer Systems Policy Project, lobbied senators on both sides of the aisle to act on the two major priorities of the computer industry. Carleton S. Fiorina, head of Hewlett-Packard Co., urged the Senate to follow the lead of the House, which approved permanent normal trade relations with China on May 24 by a decisive 237-197 margin.

"We hope this can come to a vote as quickly as possible," she said.

In addition to Hewlett-Packard, the group includes high-powered companies like Sun Microsystems, Dell Computer Corp., Intel and Lucent Technologies.

Business groups and members of the Senate Finance Committee are pressing for a quick vote on the House version of the China trade bill. Passage of that bill in the Senate would avoid the need for a House-Senate conference and would quickly send the bill to the White House for the president's signature.

But some senators, including Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, want the Senate to act on appropriations bills first. Business groups fear this would delay the Senate vote until the fall, though eventual Senate passage is virtually assured.

The CEOs also lobbied for passage of legislation that would speed up periodic relaxations of computer export controls that the Clinton administration has approved since 1995. But in response to reports that American-made computers may have aided China's military capabilities, Congress increased the time that must elapse before these changes take place from one month to six months.

The House approved legislation reducing the waiting period to 60 days by a 415-8 vote as part of the Defense Department authorization bill. The Senate is considering its version of the bill.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, and Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, plan to offer a similar provision as an amendment. Though the industry initially sought a one-month waiting period, it is backing the Bennett-Reid effort to defuse any confrontation with the House in conference.

"We would love 30 days, [but] we are comfortable with 60 days," said Lawrence Weinbach, CEO of Unisys Corp.

The tech chiefs also met with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, to seek an additional easing of controls by July 1. The White House was "very encouraging" on this point, but made no promises, Mr. Weinbach said.

The newest rules, which take effect at the end of August, restrict exports of powerful computers capable of more than 12,500 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS) to a number of countries, especially China.

By contrast, typical desktop computers, which register at roughly 2,000 MTOPS, can be exported freely.

The export of more powerful computers is carefully regulated because they can have important national security applications, such as designing nuclear weapons.

Computer companies want a decision by July that would ease exports of computers up to 27,000 MTOPS, Mr. Weinbach said.

Apart from legislative priorities, the CEOs also touted a report that calls on local, state and national governments to begin tackling some of the major policy obstacles to the development of a "networked society," IBM Corp. Chairman Louis Gerstner said.

"We're not here to call for hasty decisions or expedient answers," he said. "But it is time to get past just posing questions."

The CEOs also called for new rules on digital signatures, changes to tax systems to promote electronic commerce, protections for on-line privacy and incentives for research and development. They also stressed that government must lead by example, and not only follow up on changes in the private sector.

"Government cannot wait on the sidelines to see how business and consumers use [new] technologies and services, and only then figure out how to integrate them into government operations," the report states.

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