President Joe Biden in the Oval Office this week. (Via Twitter, @POTUS)

As Joe Biden settles into the Oval Office, tech companies in the Seattle region and elsewhere are watching with a sense of optimism to see what the new administration will mean for them and the industry.

From the pandemic response to jobs to the climate, there’s no shortage of critical issues for the new administration to address. And that has some experts believing that antitrust, content moderation and other regulatory crackdowns pursued by the prior administration might not be a priority in the initial phase of the new one.

GeekWire contributing editor Monica Nickelsburg joins co-founders John Cook and me to assess what’s ahead on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast.

Listen below, subscribe in any podcast app, and keep reading for takeaways. 

A different atmosphere: Government affairs leaders at Seattle-area tech companies see partisan division as the biggest obstacle on the path forward, but also hope that more can get done based on the Biden administration’s message of unity. At the very least, the contentious undertone seems to be gone from their interactions with the White House.

Big issues for tech

  • The tech industry’s key agenda items include climate, broadband, the economic recovery, and the future of jobs in the post-pandemic era.
  • AI and automation are reshaping the workforce, creating the need for massive worker retraining. The shift to virtual work and ultimately to hybrid home/office jobs will cause many companies and employees to rethink traditional notions about urban centers and geographic concentration.
  • China’s growing technology prowess and economic clout are also top of mind for many industry and government leaders.
  • The U.S. government antitrust cases against Google and Facebook are likely to continue, but the scope and focus of those challenges could change, according to some experts.
  • One issue that could break through is a national data privacy law. One reason is that many states have been enacting their own privacy laws, as Monica explains. “At a certain point, it becomes untenable to comply with all of those, and that could add a little bit of pressure to the federal government and get them to potentially pick this up.”

Mutual goals? Tech leaders say the sector could become more of a partner with the government. Amazon looked to set the tone in a public letter to President Biden, offering to assist with vaccination efforts. The company pushed back against criticism that it didn’t the same offer President Trump, with whom Amazon had a difficult relationship. But Amazon said it offered assistance to the Trump administration, citing a letter to the CDC in December offering help.

Many unanswered questions

  • How much ongoing antitrust scrutiny will Amazon face in the new administration and Democrat-controlled Congress? It could go either way. One theory we’ve discussed is that the Democrats’ focus on issues of economic fairness, rather than content moderation, could shift the attention to Amazon. But the crush of other pressing issues could delay any serious look at Amazon beyond the U.S. House antitrust report that was issues last year.
  • What will happen to the disputed $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract that Microsoft was awarded by the Department of Defense in 2019? Amazon contends that Trump improperly influenced the decision. Microsoft’s work is on hold pending the outcome of Amazon’s appeal.
  • What the heck is going on with the SolarWinds hack, and why is no one talking about it anymore? John was surprised not to hear the issue referenced during Biden’s inaugural address. The fact that the biggest and potentially most damaging cybersecurity breach in history has fallen off the radar says a lot about the mess the country is dealing with.

More reading: President Biden’s tech to-do list, by the New York Times, one of the articles referenced by John during the podcast discussion.

Produced by Curt Milton. Theme music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell.