Gates Talks Tech with Supportive Black Caucus
WASHINGTON — The day before a U.S. federal judge ordered software giant Microsoft split into two companies as penalty for antitrust violations, company founder and chairman Bill Gates dined privately here with Congressional Black Caucus members in a room in the U.S. Capitol.
During the luncheon, organized as a meeting for discussion of the Digital Divide and technology opportunities, Caucus members peppered Gates with questions on a wide array of topics, which ranged from visas for foreign technology workers to technology training for teachers.
The Capitol Hill luncheon meeting, which was closed to the news media, came during a high-profile Washington, D.C., trip by Gates on June 6 to testify before Congress and to meet with other legislative and federal officials.
Caucus members say that part of their discussion revolved around the philanthropy work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Microsoft Corp. “We’re very concerned as to whether Microsoft can help our communities more if [their philanthropy] can be leveraged,” said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, chairwoman of the Caucus’ Science and Technology Braintrust, says she was gratified to hear Gates reaffirm his commitment to training primary and secondary school teachers in information technology.
“[Gates is] aware of the needs, and he wants to help teachers gain those skills,” Johnson said.
The Caucus’ nonprofit affiliate organization, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, is a beneficiary of Microsoft’s generosity. According to newspaper reports, Microsoft donated $50,000 last fall to the foundation.
Caucus members have praised the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1 billion award for minority scholarships. Last March, Microsoft donated $50 million to the College Fund/UNCF. The College Fund/UNCF, which administers the scholarship program, is headed by former congressman Bill Gray, who maintains close ties to current Caucus members.
Early last month, officials with the Gates Foundation announced that they had chosen 4,000 high-achieving students from low-income minority families to make up the inaugural class of the 20-year, $1 billion minority scholarship initiative.
“The best and the brightest students shouldn’t be denied access to higher education simply because they can’t afford it,” said Gates, who was photographed with the scholarship winners shortly after the court ruling. “Melinda and I hope that this gift will not only benefit thousands of students, but also benefit America by empowering a diverse generation of leaders who otherwise might not have a chance.”
More than 62,000 students were nominated for scholarships this year. The students had until June 15 to notify program administrators with proof of financial eligibility and college enrollment for the fall semester.
Regarding the antitrust order to split Microsoft into two separate companies, Congressional Black Caucus members have sided with Gates in opposition to the positions held by the U.S. Department of Justice and federal district Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who ordered Microsoft split into two companies.
“We’re sympathetic to Gates and Microsoft,” Clyburn said after the June 6 meeting.
“Instead of focusing on bringing down Bill Gates, we need to invest in resources to create more Bill Gateses,” Johnson told The Washington Post.
Gates reportedly did not lobby Black Caucus members on Microsoft’s current antitrust troubles. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N. C., indicated that during the closed meeting, Gates suggested that he expected an adverse ruling from the presiding judge.
“He did seem to believe that the lower court is about to make an erroneous decision and that that decision would be appealed, and he seemed confident that the appeals process would work it out,” Watt told The Associated Press.
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