Focusing on Minority Fellowships on Capitol Hill

At TechCongress our mission is to build 21st century government with technology talent, principally by placing technologists to work directly for Members of Congress through the one-year Congressional Innovation Fellowship. We strive to bridge the divide of knowledge and experience between DC and Silicon Valley for better outcomes for both. Through the Congressional Innovation Fellowship, we have been able to improve the technical capacity of congressional staff.

Importantly, TechCongress is committed to building an ecosystem of inclusive cross-­sector technology policy leaders-- leaders that represent the diversity of the United States. That’s because diversity is a problem in the technology community and also on Capitol Hill.  The reasons for the lack of diversity in Congress are varied, but include the fact that hiring is often based on pre-­existing relationships, and many entry ­level jobs do not pay a living wage, making it difficult for individuals that don’t come from money to begin a career and subsequently advance in Congress.

We embrace diversity across multiple dimensions and encourage applicants from underrepresented communities in technology and in Congress, including those from minority gender, race, sexual orientation and socio­economic groups. We pay a living wage and create a pathway into Congress that does not exist for underrepresented groups.  

But our own fellowship program is just one way we can help build a diverse and modern legislative branch.  In order to catalyze this commitment, TechCongress sought to better assess the fellowships already present in Congress. Specifically, we wanted a better understanding of where organizations are using funds to address technical deficiencies in Congress and where minority-focused organizations need help in securing technology-specific fellows.  We’ve compiled the following information about other existing fellowship programs.

  1. Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies Fellowship
    • The fellowship lasts nine months, beginning in September and ending in May.
    • First preference in placing a fellow goes to Members of Congress that belong to the Congressional Asian Pacific Americans Caucus (who either are Asian American or Pacific Islander or to a Member who represent districts with a high APIA population), then to other offices that have expressed interest.
    • There is no fellowship designated to technology specific issue areas.
    • There are a total of five fellows.
  2. Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellowship
    • The fellowship terms go for two years. Fellows are encouraged to spend half of their time in a Member of Congress’s office and the other half of their time working for a congressional committee
    • Applicants must have completed a graduate or professional degree prior to the start date of the fellowship program. In some instances, extensive and relevant work experience may be substituted for educational requirements.
    • Fellows work in the offices of Members of Congress or for congressional committees, attend leadership development seminars, complete a community service project, and produce policy papers.
    • There is one fellowship designated to science and technology specific issue areas.
    • There are also fellowships designated for foreign policy, women’s issues, and healthcares.
    • There are a total of nine fellows.
  3. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellowship
    • The program is nine months, beginning in August and ending in May.
    • Applicants must have earned a Bachelor’s Degree within two years of the program start date, have high academic achievement, and have eligibility to work in the United States.
    • In addition to their congressional work, fellows are required to participate in community service.
    • The subject matter for the fellowship is dependent on the funder. For example: CHCI-AltaMed Health Graduate Fellow, CHCI-Motorola Foundation STEM Education Graduate Fellow, CHCI-Shell Energy Graduate Fellow.
    • The singular CHCI-Motorola Foundation STEM Education Graduate Fellow in 2015 and 2016 years were the only tech-specific fellow.
    • There are a total of nine fellows.
  4. Women’s Policy Inc. Congressional Fellowship
    • The fellowship lasts eight months, beginning in January and ending in August.
    • Only students currently enrolled in a master’s, doctoral, or professional degree program at an accredited institution in the United States or who have completed such a program within the past 18 months are eligible.
    • WCPI strongly recommends that applicants complete at least nine hours of graduate coursework before applying and display serious interest in research and policymaking relevant to women’s issues.
    • Fellows work a minimum of 40 hours per week as legislative assistants on policy issues.
    • There is currently no fellowship designated specifically for work on technology issues.
    • There are a total of four fellows.

Based on our research there’s a clear absence of technology focused fellowships in the existing programs that focus on improving diversity on Capitol Hill. This presents an opportunity. An opportunity to develop a new category of fellow that is both diverse, inclusive, and  possesses the technical expertise that Congress currently lacks.

We’re working with these groups and with the tech sector to meet that opportunity.  If you want to help, please be in touch.