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Technology: Five Hill Aides to Know

While Hollywood’s friends say they’re heading back to the drawing board, Silicon Valley’s allies say they’ve already won one of the year’s top technology policy fights — by stopping a bill to curb online piracy with the help of millions of censorship-fearing Web users. Legislation that’s still very much alive includes efforts to set a new course for the space program and to redistribute parts of the broadcast spectrum.

Aaron Cooper

Chief intellectual property counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee

Cooper’s position puts him at the center of the most consequential technology policy debate to bedevil Congress in years: What should Congress do to help filmmakers and record producers protect their copyrighted work from being hijacked or counterfeited online?

As a top adviser to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cooper has been working feverishly to navigate between the intense and heavily lobbied positions of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, hoping that in the middle lies legislation that can win a bipartisan majority in the Senate, survive negotiations with the House and secure a presidential signature this year. A test vote on Cooper’s first draft scheduled for last week was postponed, but he and Leahy have vowed to keep trying for a breakthrough.

Opponents want lawmakers to reconsider the measure’s fundamental approach. But after about two years of haggling with Hollywood movie studios, Internet service providers and others, Cooper said there is no point in waiting any longer. “If you drag it out two, three or four more years, I think what people will find — if a bill like this that is relatively moderate is not enacted — is the concern from those whose goods are stolen all the time online, or counterfeited online, is just going to grow,” Cooper said. “The problem is just going to increase.”

Cooper earned a politics degree from Princeton University (just down the road from his childhood home) and a law degree from Vanderbilt University. After clerking for a federal appellate judge in Florida, he came to Washington, D.C., in 2001 to serve as an associate at Covington & Burling and soon began developing his expertise in communications law. He said he was drawn in by the ways in which rapidly evolving technologies were reshaping a large slice of the law. He came to the Senate in 2005 to work on judiciary issues for Sen. Paul Sarbanes; when the Maryland Democrat retired a year later, Cooper joined the Judiciary Committee staff. He’s had his current job since 2009.

“Where communications law regulates the mode of transport, intellectual property law is what goes over that transport, so they work together really well,” Cooper said.

— Keith Perine

Neil Fried

Chief communications and technology counsel, House Energy and Commerce Committee

One of the few must-do pieces of legislation this year is the yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut, probably while also extending jobless benefits and the current Medicare payment rate for doctors.

None of those is a technology issue, but Fried will be a player in the deal-making nonetheless because the negotiators are eager to find ways to offset the package’s cost and are eyeing $6 billion to $16 billion from auctioning slices of the broadcast spectrum to wireless Internet service providers.

Fried will be representing the House Republican approach to this reallocation against the somewhat different views of the Democratic-controlled Senate. He has been interested in technology since elementary school in the 1980s — when, he said, he learned how to program in BASIC on a Radio Shack TRS-80 desktop computer. “It’s hard not to like gadgets,” Fried said. “And the great thing is that technology moves very quickly, but in this seat, you get to see it all.”

Fried earned a journalism degree from Northwestern University and later earned a law degree at Washington University in St. Louis. During law school — and while Congress was working on the first comprehensive overhaul of communications law in six decades — he interned in the Federal Communications Commission general counsel’s office. After a year at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, he returned to the FCC in 1996 to work on the regulations implementing the portions of the law affecting the phone companies.

He spent three years in private practice before joining the committee staff in 2003.

In the debate on spectrum legislation, Fried said he’s eager to try to balance the interests of the myriad stakeholders, including Internet service providers, television broadcasters, public safety officials and government agencies.

“I’m a firm believer in the adversarial process. And so, ironically, the more parties are involved, the better informed you become because you see it from all angles,” he said. “You don’t have to worry that you’re only hearing one side of the story, and as a staffer, that makes it easier for you to figure out, ‘OK, what’s the right policy outcome?’”

— Keith Perine

Matt Sandgren

Minority staff counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee

When Sandgren was put on the Judiciary staff five years ago by Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who was then the panel’s second-most-senior Republican, the issue of protecting intellectual property from a wave of piracy and counterfeiting was only a blip on the committee’s radar. This year, it has become a central focus.

With the collapse this month of support for Senate legislation designed to help Hollywood fight off the pirates — heralded when Hatch himself withdrew his sponsorship of the bill — Sandgren will be at the right hand of his boss and other Republicans, who have promised not to give up searching with Democrats for a wining formula addressing concerns of copyright holders. (Sandgren is also lead counsel for the Senate GOP’s High-Tech Task Force, which Hatch chairs, and the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus.)

The trick will be to do that without offending the sensibilities of online retailers and other heavy-hitters in the Internet industry, who staged a pitched public relations campaign that persuaded millions of Web browsers to express fears about a new era of online censorship.

Beyond intellectual property and technology, Sandgren’s legislative portfolio spans a good portion of the Judiciary panel’s jurisdiction: immigration, biotechnology, telecommunications and generic drug patents.

The Provo, Utah, native earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University in 1998, studying Portuguese. (He served his Mormon mission in Portugal.) He followed up with a law degree from the University of Tulsa in 2002 and an advanced degree in international and comparative law from George Washington University. He then did a stint in the legal department at Nu Skin Enterprises, a personal care and nutrition company based in Provo, before joining Hatch’s personal office almost nine years ago.

An avid golfer and tennis player, Sandgren is also a marathoner, with a personal record of 3:32.

— Humberto Sanchez

David Whitney

Majority staff counsel, House Judiciary Committee

As the top intellectual property lawyer on the committee staff, Whitney has been “working night and day,” in the words of Chairman Lamar Smith, to salvage legislation designed to combat the online piracy of music, video and writing.

Despite weeks of intense drafting and redrafting, the Texas Republican and his top staff collaborator in the effort remain stymied in their efforts to find a consensus — especially in the face of this month’s intense criticism from millions of Web users, who fear the legislation would crush the freewheeling culture of the Internet.

The controversy is a rare moment in the spotlight for Whitney, and to shield him from some of the added scrutiny, his bosses at the committee declined to cooperate on this profile. But, behind the scenes, he has been a player in crafting technology policy on Capitol Hill during almost a decade on the Judiciary staff.

A North Carolina native, he earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina and soon after moved to Washington, D.C., where his first Hill job was as staff counsel to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). One of Helms’ final victories, before retiring in 2002, was enactment of a law setting new terms for webcasters to pay royalties on the music they put online — a victory the Senator credited in part to Whitney.

The lawyer has since won praise for his House Judiciary work not only from fellow Republicans and entertainment industry groups but also from several senior Democrats.

An early effort in his current job was a 2004 measure updating the law permitting satellite television providers to offer out-of-market network channels to some consumers. And his role five years ago in developing a measure designed to bolster patent law expertise among judges won public praise from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Judiciary member who’s now leading the opposition to Smith’s approach to combating Web piracy.

— Joanna Anderson

Ann Zulkosky

Senior professional staff, Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space

Zulkosky’s life before the Hill involved dissecting striped bass in the Hudson River, conducting lab experiments on lobsters and collecting sediment samples from Boston Harbor.

Before going to the Senate Commerce Committee as a fellow in 2007, she was a marine sciences graduate student at Stony Brook University. She thought she would return to graduate school to finish her doctorate after her fellowship ended. But she never left the committee.

“It’s just a great opportunity to bring the science to bear on policy,” she said.

Zulkosky is the top aide handling science issues for Democrats on the panel, which deals with oversight of agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation and issues such as nanotechnology.

She was involved in two major pieces of science legislation in 2010, serving as the point person for Senate Democrats on a 2010 NASA reauthorization and taking the lead for committee Democrats on a reauthorization of federal science and technology research and education programs.

While she said she’s referred to as either a reformed or fallen scientist depending on whom you ask, Zulkosky tends to think of herself as a science policy adviser.

“The Members have to decide, you know, where they want to be on the spectrum,” she said. But she lays it out, saying, “Here’s the range of issues, here’s what we know, here’s what we don’t know.”

A Minnesota native, Zulkosky studied biology as an undergraduate at Gustavus Adolphus College. After graduating, she moved to Maine to work for a program teaching ecology and oceanography to students. She also previously worked as a program coordinator for the Massachusetts Environmental Trust.

There are corollaries between science and policy, she said, such as how problems are approached and delving into the mechanics of issues.

“You’re looking at how things work and getting below the surface and … there’s always more than meets the eye,” she said.

— Anne L. Kim

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