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New Internet adviser coming to Commerce

As White House Net adviser Ira Magaziner prepares to step down, the Commerce Department appoints Elliot Maxwell for "all things Internet."

The Commerce Department has appointed a new official to map out its strategies for a wide-range of issues relating the digital economy and the Net's infrastructure.

Elliot Maxwell will serve as the "all things Internet" adviser to secretary of Commerce William Daley, overseeing issues such as the future governance of the Net addressing system, encryption export controls, and online privacy policy.

With the expected departure of White House Net czar Ira Magaziner later this year, the administration is in need of people who can take the reins from the high-profile senior adviser.

Although the high-tech Tech loses policy leaders industry is pining for another one-stop shop like Magaziner, Maxwell says he isn't his old friend's successor. However, he no doubt will be a key player spearheading policy decisions throughout the executive branch.

"What I'm trying to do is to provide the secretary and department with a person who can look broadly at the e-commerce issues and try to empower the people at the department who are working on these issues--and lots and lots of good people are doing that here," Maxwell said in an interview today.

"Two years ago [when Magaziner started] there was little understanding of this. Now there is recognition that it is a central area where the economy is going nationally and internationally," he added. "We are as close to a 'Department of E-commerce' that you could have. I can't imagine working on a better set of issues."

Before joining Commerce about three weeks ago, Maxwell was the deputy chief of the office of plans and policies at the Federal Communications Commission where he headed an e-commerce working group. He got his start in public service in 1975. He has served at Commerce once before as the director of international technology policy, he said.

Maxwell is characterized by colleagues as a "good guy" who would rather roll up his sleeves and get to work than bask in the limelight of Beltway power circles.

Becky Burr, associate administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said she welcomed Maxwell's appointment and gave him a vote of confidence when it comes to heading up the complex and often politicized e-commerce issues centered in the Commerce Department.

Maxwell's experience in the Internet arena and ability to communicate with people--a skill valued in Magaziner--will help him, Burr noted.

"Elliot is a wonderful guy," she said. "I've worked with him for years and we're extremely happy he's joining the Commerce team. Elliot is an extremely talented, very down-to-earth, very accessible guy. A lot of folks have worked with him--he's not a stranger to this community."

When word got out that Magaziner was leaving, many insiders speculated that he wouldn't be replaced. A close friend of the Clintons, Magaziner worked on the administration's failed health-care policy before carving out a position as the president's solider in the field on e-commerce. Magaziner was the chief architect of the administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce white paper, which is slated to be updated by the end of this year.

With Magaziner on his way out, it was foreseen that the many divisions of the Commerce Department will be the primary force on many issues, such as completing negotiations with the European Union over its strict privacy directive that threatens to cut off digital communication between the EU territories and the United States.

Whereas Magaziner's main goal was to serve the president, Maxwell will tackle the issues from within Commerce. But Burr added that she expects Maxwell to be visible as well despite that fact that he doesn't have a direct line into the White House.

"He understands the Internet. He understands the potential of e-commerce," she noted. "It's important to have a big-picture view of this. And Elliot certainly does have that."

Maxwell, for one, says his door will be open to the industry.

"The department sees its role as helping speak for the participants in the digital economy and wants to make sure it understands what their needs are," he said.