Add Alan Davidson to the list of former Google execs taking new positions in the federal government. Davidson is joining the Commerce Department in a newly created position, Director of Digital Economy within the Department of Commerce.

Davidson knows a little about digital economics. He helped open Google’s D.C. office 10 years ago, and later became Director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. He’s seen as an expert in cybersecurity, net-neutrality, privacy and surveillance.

In an interview with Politico’s Nancy Scola, Davidson said, “the Commerce Department is going to be playing a central role on some of the biggest issues that we’re going to be facing, from Internet governance to surveillance to privacy to patent reform.”

Davidson is at least the sixth high-profile former Google exec to join the Obama administration, joining:

  • Megan Smith: Current U.S. Chief Technology Officer and former VP of Google’s X lab
  • Mikey Dickerson: Current Administrator of U.S. Digital Services (USDS) and former Site Reliability Manager at Google
  • Katie Jacobs Stanton: Served as Director of Citizen Participation at the White House after leading Google projects such as Google Moderator, Google Finance, and the Open Social initiative
  • Andrew McLaughlin: Served as Deputy Chief Technology Officer after Director of Global Public Policy at Google
  • Sonal Shah: Served as head of the Office of Social Innovation at the White House and former head of Global Development Initiatives at Google

Washington’s fascination with Silicon Valley isn’t surprising or even all that new.

The U.S. military continues to court startups, pumping money into research in Silicon Valley, and even set up an office in Moffett Field, right next to a Google office.

Similarly, Silicon Valley seems enamored of Washington’s power. Ride-sharing service Uber hired David Plouffe, former campaign manager for President Obama, and Amazon hired former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Others like to just visit. Google executives, including co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt, have visited the White House some 230 times – an average of roughly once a week – since President Obama took office. And what Silicon Valley company spent more on lobbying than any other firm in 2014? Why, Google, which spent $16.8 million, according to Brody Mullins in The Wall Street Journal.

Technology is so entwined with public policy now that it’s not surprising tech firms want and wield influence. The question to be answered is whether this trend is unique to the Obama administration, or whether the next occupant of the White House will have just as great a pull as the current president.

The tie between government and burgeoning industries goes back generations. Not long after the auto industry boomed after World War II, its executives found themselves filling key federal roles.  George W. Romney was chairman and president of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962, and then later served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Robert McNamara helped rebuild Ford Motor Company after World War II, and then became Secretary of Defense.

In 50 years, some other flourishing industry will try to court Washington. Too bad we can’t Google the future to find out which it is.
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MeriTalk Staff