Over two days in April, as Mark Zuckerberg testified in Washington, America got to see what I experienced every day for six years on Capitol Hill: Congress is struggling to keep up with technology. Today, TechCongress is taking another big step to remedy that.
From now until Sunday, September 9th, we’re recruiting for our fourth class of Congressional Innovation Fellows. We started in 2015 with two fellows, and have grown incrementally since. This year, we’re growing again, recruiting for up to ten fellows to serve in Congress for one year beginning in January 2019.
What Congress should or shouldn’t do about Facebook’s sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica is complicated. No question. But the hearings displayed that many in Congress didn’t even have a vague sense of how Facebook worked. And compared to the political, legal and ethical questions that any one of today’s emerging technology startups are working on— including neural-computing interfaces or AI as it is applied to every industry— the challenges from the Facebook hearings almost look quaint.
Decent, functional government in the 21st century will require understanding how these technologies work. Congress needs to invest in technical expertise.
Just like every Congressional Committee has a Chief Counsel, it should have a Chief Technologist. And just as groups of lawyers and economists in Congress make formal recommendations on policy matters, groups of technologists should do the same.
At the same time, engineers or developers in industry who want to serve their country, and take a tour of duty in government, should have an opportunity to do that. Students coming out of computer science or engineering degrees should have a viable career path in public policy and government. And veterans who have worked on the front lines of cyber and information security should have a pathway to apply those skills to policy.
TechCongress is doing all of that. We are proving the value of technical expertise in Congress, so Congress will solve its tech deficit itself, including by hiring our alumni. And we’re building a pathway for technologists that want to serve in government, for a year or as a career.
We’ve sent thirteen technologists to Congress in three years, working across the ideological spectrum. They’ve served under Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) on the right, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) on the left. Forty-six percent of the fellows are people of color. Thirty-eight percent are veterans. Inclusion matters to us, and we’ve baked it into our values from day one.
And our Congressional Innovation Fellows have done fantastic work. John Costello helped lead the investigation into the data breach of the Office of Personnel Management, the largest in federal government history. Sunmin Kim has shaped policy on emerging tech like drones, autonomous vehicles and advanced robotics. Chris Soghoian secured government email from cyberattacks and investigated the security of our voting machines.
Our 2019 class will have a huge opportunity to make an impact. Next year will be the start of a new and very different Congress. A record number of Members of Congress and Committee Chairmen are retiring. Tech is increasingly in the public eye, and the Facebook hearings have sharpened Congress’s focus and desire for tech expertise. Demand for our 2018 fellows was off the charts, with each fellow averaging five placement offers. We are growing the core fellowship to include up to ten fellows, and also launching efforts to bring graduate technical students to Congress with our Scholars program.
If you work in tech or the military, and have ever thought about working in Congress or on policy, now is your chance. Fellows earn an annual stipend of $80,000, with other benefits like reimbursements for relocation, health care and travel.
Applications close at 11:59pm EST on Sunday, September 9. Help us build a Congress that’s ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st and the 22nd centuries. Send us great candidates, or apply on our website.