The U.S. government needs to do a better job of embracing technology to promote transparency, making more information available online and soliciting public opinion on policy, the head of Google Inc. said Tuesday in Washington.
Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt argued that “engagement is fundamental” in addressing the country’s current challenges.
“Waiting until the eleventh hour to solicit input on the bills — it’s crazy,” Mr. Schmidt said in his speech hosted by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. “Let’s deal with [the economic crisis] as an opportunity to get the structure right.”
The chief of the Mountain View, Calif., Internet giant — a member of President-elect Barack Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board — said the government needs to focus on the areas of infrastructure, research and energy to ensure economic growth.
“We invented this stuff, and we’re now 15th in the world,” Mr. Schmidt said of broadband penetration. He praised the Federal Communications Commission for several recent decisions aimed at spurring wireless innovation, including freeing up a swath of airwaves known as “white space” for unlicensed use, but said even more could be done to make sure spectrum is being used efficiently.
Mr. Schmidt said the government has an important role to play in funding research, noting that businesses “by law have to serve their shareholders” and therefore are not going to “fundamentally invest at the level of pure research.”
“It takes government policy. That model works,” he said, citing a pledge by Mr. Obama to double basic spending on scientific research, which declined this year.
Mr. Schmidt, like other high-profile technology leaders, roundly criticized the country’s H1-B visa cap that restricts the number of skilled workers permitted into the United States each year.
“We have the best university system in the world, bar none, and then we don’t give them the visa to work here where they would pay lots and lots of taxes,” he said of foreign students who study in the United States, but are often denied the right to remain upon graduation. “It’s bizarre. It’s disgusting.”
Shifting to energy, Mr. Schmidt warned that climate change is “very much a threat in our lifetimes” and touted a Google proposal to increase wind, solar and geothermal power sources and promote the use of plug-in electric vehicles. He also floated the idea of a government authority modeled on the Farm Loan Act of 1916 that would make low-interest, long-term loans to companies developing clean-energy technologies.
Mr. Schmidt said the free-market system is the best approach to creating new opportunities.
“We have to agree with the free market, which is fundamental to innovation,” he said. “It’s really important that the outcome here is that small startups with funny names - the next Google … have got to be created.”