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IP, cyber czar jobs remain open

Six months into the Obama administration, two White House posts viewed as critical to the high-tech and intellectual property sectors remain vacant -- and lawmakers and industry stakeholders are getting antsy.

President Obama's picks for the cybersecurity and IP coordinator jobs have all but been finalized, sources said, yet no personnel announcements have been made. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Two frontrunners to become cyber czar are Howard Schmidt, former White House special adviser for cyberspace security, and Frank Kramer, an assistant Defense secretary under President Bill Clinton. Other names floated included Microsoft Vice President Scott Charney; Obama transition team technology adviser Paul Kurtz; and former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. Davis said last month he was neither interested in returning to government nor being a candidate for the position.

Davis, like many others, said his key concern with the cyber czar post is the job's ambiguity. Although Obama announced it in May, it remains uncertain how much authority the individual, who would report jointly to the National Security Council and National Economic Council, would have. A privacy officer to work with the coordinator has been chosen, but the individual's name has not been released, officials said.

Once the cyber czar is named, the individual will have a long to-do list. A White House report called for preparing an updated strategy to secure the information and communications infrastructure. The official will also set up a framework for interagency collaboration; initiate a national public awareness campaign; develop public-private partnerships; and prepare an incident response plan.

Getting the IP enforcement coordinator in place has proven even more difficult despite the fact that the top candidate has been known for months. Victoria Espinel, who served as the first assistant trade representative for IP, a position created by former Trade Representative Susan Schwab in 2006, is ready to report for duty, sources said. The dilemma has been where to put her.

Unlike the cyber czar, the IP coordinator is a Senate-confirmed post, and White House Chief of Staff Emanuel has reportedly ruled out placement within the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council or National Security Council. The remaining options are establishing a stand-alone office or having the official housed within the USTR, OMB or Office of Science and Technology Policy -- and each could pose problems.

A stand-alone office is "probably a pipe dream," one official said, and placement within OSTP would be considered "a slap in the face to the IP community." Before joining the administration, several high-level advisers there took stances on technology policy issues that clashed with the views of the content community. IP hawks also worry the job would be less prominent if it were run out of OSTP.

OMB is not widely known for setting policy. But it has successfully coordinated projects that span agencies, sources said. For its part, USTR has a great deal of IP expertise but is also one of the agencies the IP enforcement coordinator is charged with overseeing. Prior to creating the new IP post, a similar entity was housed in the Commerce Department and faced congressional criticism over its autonomy.

One of the first orders of business for the IP czar is drafting a strategic plan due to the House and Senate Judiciary and Appropriations committees in mid-October. The plan must identify "structural weaknesses, systemic flaws or other unjustified impediments" to cracking down on IP crime.

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