Tech CEOs Push Priorities with Politicians

An advocacy group representing several tech vendor CEOs has been meeting with U.S. presidential candidates and getting a positive reception to the policies it's pushing, the group's executive director said.

The Technology CEO Council, whose members include the chief executives of Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and Dell Inc., has met with several presidential candidates in recent months, said Bruce Mehlman, executive director of the group. Mehlman declined to name the candidates the CEOs have met with, saying the group is better served at the moment by not naming names.

"The meetings have been productive," Mehlman said. "There's been a lot of ... mutual recognition of the importance of innovation, the importance of remaining globally connected."

The group wants to reach out early in an "intense political season," Mehlman said Thursday. The group is trying to present a "vision on how some of the big, broad, important trends should be thought about and talked about," he said.

The U.S. presidential election is in November 2008.

This week, the council released a report, called "A Great Nation," calling for U.S. lawmakers to focus on free trade and innovation. "A great nation does not fear overseas competition," the report says. "A great nation prepares its workers and companies to successfully compete in a global market."

The report is an effort to get the council's views out about high-skilled immigration and free trade, Mehlman said. While the group has called for more H-1B skilled worker visas to be made available for U.S. companies to use, other groups, including some tech worker groups, have opposed raising the H-1B cap from the current 65,000, plus another 20,000 for students, each year.

Commentators such as CNN's Lou Dobbs have also opposed an immigration reform bill that would include a higher H-1B cap. "A lot of this is in the spirit of our recognition that a lot more Americans watch Lou Dobbs than read [classic free-market economist] Adam Smith," Mehlman said. "It takes real political courage to stand up for open markets these days."

While Mehlman is upbeat about the group's meetings with candidates, he said he's still frustrated by the lack of action on the group's agenda. In April, the group released its list of "seven for '07" legislative priorities, including immigration reform and a patent system overhaul, and the U.S. Congress has not passed any of the seven items.

Even relatively uncontroversial measures like more funding for research at U.S. government agencies and a health IT bill have so far gone nowhere this year. "It is encouraging to see politicians from both parties ... saying so many of the right things and pushing for many of the right things," Mehlman said. "America doesn't get more competitive policies from speeches -- we get them from legislation. The proof is in the passage."