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Commerce official suggests rewrite of information-sharing rules

Laws governing how the private sector communicates with and aids the government with various activities are proving to be a roadblock to better security, a top U.S. official said Tuesday.

As the Commerce Department technology undersecretary, Phil Bond has been designated to serve as the high-tech community's liaison to the federal government, a role that has new meaning since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Bond cautioned that the rules governing the interaction between government and the private sector are hampering efforts to create efficient public-private partnerships that could help solve new homeland security challenges.

"Maybe we need to rewrite" some of the rules "now because these are not normal times," Bond told legislative staff gathered at a luncheon sponsored by the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute. He noted that the key to confronting new challenges is stronger partnerships that could facilitate the use of new technologies central to countering terrorism.

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., touted a bill, H.R. 4246, he cosponsored with Virginia Republican Tom Davis that would provide businesses with exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act and antitrust laws so they could more easily share information among themselves and government agencies.

Though Bond applauded the measure as the "kind of spirit" needed to facilitate the necessary "full-time" dialogue with the private sector, he stopped short of offering a Bush administration endorsement. He did promise that the Commerce Department would closely review the bill.

Bond emphasized that federal agencies are trying to contribute to the war against terrorism as best they can within the current climate. He noted that Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, called on agencies to identify helpful technologies.

"Virtually every agency has something technological to contribute to the [counterterrorism] cause," Bond said, noting that, for example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's leadership in biometrics research and development.

As part of that effort, high-tech leaders, such as IBM's Lou Gerstner, AOL Time Warner's Steve Case and Intel's Craig Barrett, have offered assistance in meetings with Evans and the heads of various federal agencies.

Bond noted how one Intel engineer helped create a Web site that detailed technology vendors located in and around New York as a portal for businesses that needed to rebuild after the terrorist attacks there. That Web site is now part of restartcentral.com.