After the Bubble, Techies Try to Rebuild

Posted June 24, 2003 at 4:07pm

In the past few months, Cisco has doubled the size of its lobbying force, Entrust opened a Washington office and Microsoft decided to bring in a top Republican lobbyist.

After a two-year cooling-off period, the nation’s high-tech industry is hot on Washington again.

“Clearly, there have been a number of companies that have decided to add additional resources to their Washington offices over the last year,” said Jack Krumholtz, the top lobbyist for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

After the bust of the high-tech bubble caused most tech companies to send less money to Washington, the tech industry has quietly rebooted its efforts to build strong ties to Members of Congress and the administration.

Several high-tech companies and trade associations have added to their lobbying teams in the past few months, while others have reopened offices they closed just a few years ago.

“While it seems counterintuitive to invest [in Washington] now, the hires have given us more opportunity to contribute to the policy debates that are very important to our economic growth,” said Laura Ispen, the head of government affairs for Cisco Systems.

In other words, “we want to make sure we have the staffing in D.C. to score some wins,” said Ispen, who recently doubled the size of Cisco’s lobbying corps to four.

Cisco is far from alone. In all, more than a dozen tech companies and trade associations are expending their Washington offices or plan to do so, including Cisco Systems, Dell Computer, Microsoft, Honeywell, Motorola and eBay.

Meanwhile, a trio of high-tech trade associations are expanding.

The Electronic Industries Alliance announced this week that it plans to fill out its Washington team with a former Capitol Hill aide and a current White House official. [IMGCAP(1)]

CapNet, the Greater Washington Board of Trade-affiliated regional technology organization, named a new chairman of its policy committee.

And the Information Technology Industry Association recently hired three lobbyists to replace two who departed.

“We wanted to be more aggressive, to have a stronger and bigger team,” said Ralph Helmann, a lobbyist who joined the association two years ago after working for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Helmann and other tech lobbyists say the new hires show that the industry is finally starting to realize the benefits of having a team in Washington devoted to advocating favorable rules and regulations.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the newly created Homeland Security Department plans to hand out billions of dollars in high-tech contracts this year.

“A lot of people want to make sure they are well represented so they can get a piece of that,” Helmann said.

“You are seeing people put more of a marketing and sales focus on Washington,” added a lobbyist for Entrust, which is looking to pick up a few more lobbyists. “All you have to do is look at the dollars that have been appropriated but have not been spent.”

Aside from Homeland Security spending, tech lobbyists say the new hires and spending in Washington reflects the maturation of the tech community inside the Beltway.

Krumholtz, one of the first tech lobbyists in town, said “policy issues around high tech have really moved up the agenda in Congress and the administration” since he founded Microsoft’s Washington office eight years ago.

Krumholtz leads a 19-person office in a city that understands the importance of the tech community’s impact on the U.S. economy.

As a result, Krumholtz said, “A number of companies have seen the need to make a concerted and sustained investment in engaging policymakers and the administration.”