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Gore, Silicon Valley Executives Form New High Tech Brain Trust

By Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

It doesn't show up on the roster of White House advisory panels and blue-ribbon commissions. It doesn't even have an official name, although those in the know have nicknamed it "Gore-Tech."

Once a month, Vice President Al Gore meets privately with a select group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, sometimes on the high-tech executives' home turf in Northern California, sometimes around a conference table at the White House.

"They're like the kind of meetings I'm used to in the Valley," says Kim Polese, a Palo Alto software entrepreneur who is a regular participant. "There's no hierarchy, and no protocol about who can speak when. That would get in the way."

Although the topics vary from month to month, the overarching agenda is the same: fathoming the implications of America's "new economy" and devising practical solutions to public policy problems large and small.

And while its existence remains something of a secret in official Washington, Gore-Tech is rapidly becoming one of the most influential brain trusts in town.

In recent months, Gore-Tech has weighed in on issues ranging from education policy to FDA staffing. And increasingly, White House officials all the way up to President Clinton are seeking its guidance - and responding to its advice.

"We're so conceited that we think what's in the best interest of our industry is in the best interest of the whole country," says Halsey Minor, 32-year-old founder of a fast-growing technology company called CNET and another Gore-Tech regular.

"We feel in some ways like we're reviving America," adds Steve Perlman, another participant and inventor of WebTV, a device that enables people to surf the Internet and send e-mail with their television sets.

To some extent, the hubris is understandable. Over the past three years, the high-tech sector has contributed 27 percent of the growth in the nation's gross domestic product, according to a recent analysis by Business Week magazine.

Although there have been only eight Gore-Tech skull sessions so far, the collaboration already has had a measurable impact on public policy. Some examples:

An administration-endorsed project to improve communication between school and home through an interactive computer network.

A Clinton-sanctioned effort to make it easier for parents to monitor their children's Internet use.

An administration campaign to enact legislation to prevent unnecessary delays in approval of new pharmaceuticals.

Gore-Tech consists of a core group of 15 or so regulars, although the roster varies somewhat from month to month. It includes the young, wildly successful designers of new technologies that are rapidly becoming household names: Netscape, Yahoo, WebTV, Java.

"Our goal was to wire up this community with the White House," says White House technology adviser Tim Newell. "We feel it's been successful."

The unusual collaboration represents a striking turnabout for the technology industry, which has long practiced a leave-us-alone-and-we'll-leave-you-alone strategy in its dealings with government.

The group has informed Gore's understanding of what kind of economy will work for America in the next century, a vision he espouses regularly in speeches across the country and is likely to incorporate into his presidential campaign for 2000, aides say.