I could create a long list of the reasons that I was motivated to join the TechCongress. At the very top of that list is my first-hand experience working for a Member of Congress and attempting to develop and promote policy with individuals (including myself at times) that had limited technical experience. This illustrated, to me, the criticality of TechCongress’ mission. Technology touches individuals across the globe, in a variety of ways, and becomes even more intertwined with our lives and culture every day. From the growing Internet of Things to the federal government’s increased efforts to modernize the systems that serve Americans across the country, technology continues to engulf many facets of daily life.
Most recently, I had the pleasure of serving with Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11). As Ranking Member of the Government Operations Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and co-author of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA, Pub.L 113-291), he had a deep interest in, and understanding of, the government’s technological deficiencies. One aspect of my role in his office was considering how to address the daunting task of managing, utilizing, and modernizing the federal government’s IT infrastructure. I spent a great deal of time building my own technical proficiency.
My experience presents a case study in why a program like TechCongress is so important. As a tech staffer, I struggled to draft policy that fully grasped the dynamic nature of the technology landscape, and then to communicate that policy to a build a coalition. I struggled with developing policy that would provide the necessary regulation to protect users while incentivizing greater innovation. On top of that, I had to figure out how to effectively collaborate with other offices that did not have technical capacity. Unlike the typical Congressional office, my office prioritized the development of technical expertise. We were the exception, not the rule. Our focus on tech policy was a result of Rep. Connolly's interests, and the interests of his district, which included a large technology sector. This is not common in all House and Senate offices.
This divide between offices that actively work with the tech industry, like ours, and those that do not results in a massive knowledge gap. The vast majority of offices making technology policy, due to the complexities of technology and the lack of technical know-how, are not adequately equipped to understand the issues that they are legislating, to the detriment of their constituents.
Of course, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), private special interest groups, and the Congressional Research Service all provide a wealth of resources for the congressional staffer, but none of these contribute the practical technical expertise that is often needed to understand the potential effect of new legislation and policies. Furthermore, none of them aid the staffer in increasing their actual legislative capacity. A staffer will still need to continually revisit these sources while maintaining the integrity of their Member’s stance on the issues. And that’s the mission of TechCongress. By bringing tech talent to Congress to build a practical and pragmatic understanding of Washington, TechCongress helps bridge the divide of knowledge and experience between D.C. and Silicon Valley to the benefit of both communities.
As the United States continues to increase its dependence on technology, there is an opportunity for technology leaders and their counterparts in Congress to find ways to share the wealth of knowledge that exists today. The partnership between the technology industry and Congress is essentially developing the tools and infrastructure that will chart the future of the U.S. I believe TechCongress is developing a pathway for technologists, with diverse backgrounds and expertise, serve the public and improve government’s ability to serve the American people, a cause that I’m honored to support.