The elections of 2014 are (almost) over. As winter’s icy chill firmly grasps the nation’s capital, the 113th Congress begins its final meeting that will run through the end of the year. During the lame duck session these next two months, there probably won’t be too many major issues discussed and decided.
However, that doesn’t mean nothing will be accomplished. In fact, some people predict that technology issues normally placed on the back burner might become a focus of the final act of this Congress. One of those people is Bob Dix, vice president of global government affairs for Juniper Networks. Dix is widely recognized across industry and government as a leading policy expert in furthering government and industry partnerships designed to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. And as a former congressional staff member, he’s intimately familiar with the legislative process.
Dix took a few minutes to talk with Technocrat about his technology predictions for the final session of the 113th Congress.
John Breeden II: Mr. Dix, you have served as chairman of the IT Sector Coordinating Council since April 2008. And you were the staff director for the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census during the 108th Congress. Based on your experience, is there precedence for Congress to talk about technology during lame duck sessions?
BD: Clearly there is precedent for acting during the lame duck session. Members who either lost their election or are retiring from their seats may no longer feel encumbered by politics or getting re-elected and could be more willing to vote on pending matters. Topics such as cybersecurity and patent reform have pending legislative initiatives that have a technology element and could be moved forward during the lame duck session.
JBII: What have you heard or what do you think are the top technological issues that will be talked about during this session of Congress?
BD: Passing an information-sharing bill in the Senate (S. 2588) to help achieve timely, reliable and actionable cyber situational awareness; and reconciling [that] with similar legislation (H.R.624) that has passed the House; and moving a bipartisan bill is a top priority [for] improving the cyber safety, security and resilience of our nation.
JBII: What issues specifically in the field of cybersecurity do you think will come up during this session?
BD: Information sharing, Federal Information Security Management Act reform, workforce development, and research and development.
JBII: Do you think that any executive branch efforts such as the Katrina Initiative or the push to add security in the form of chips to credit cards will get any congressional attention?
BD: Several ongoing initiatives such as the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace continue to examine improvements in identity management and authentication to reduce risk and improve security.
JBII: I know that defense and intelligence policy is a hot-button issue that never seems to die down, especially following revelations about government spying that recently were leaked. Do you think these will be discussed during this session?
BD: The Senate may take up the USA Freedom Act, which addresses surveillance issues, a version of which previously passed the House.
JBII: It looks like Congress and the president are gearing up for a fight over immigration law. Are there any technological issues that weigh into that discussion and do you think they will be addressed?
BD: There are a number of issues and elements that are part of the current discussions and debate around comprehensive immigration reform. An important issue to the technology industry is setting quotas for H-1B visas, but it is unlikely that these matters will be addressed during the lame duck session.
JBII: Net neutrality is another technology topic where the lines are clearly drawn. Is it too much to expect some type of congressional action on this subject?
BD: It is unlikely that Congress will take up the issue legislatively during the lame duck session.
JBII: While I have you, from your experience, how technical are actual members of Congress? One criticism we often hear is that some of the less-in-touch members of Congress don’t use email, don’t have cell phones and generally don’t even use computers. How technical are politicians in general and is this an actual problem or just a misleading stereotype?
BD:: Just like in the general public, there is a wide spectrum of technical knowledge and interest among members of Congress. The knowledge span, interest and expertise of members and their staff will continue to grow.
The legislative system was not designed, nor does it anticipate, that every elected official is an expert or deeply knowledgeable on every issue. We hope and expect that members seek to educate themselves and learn about the issues that they oversee and vote on.
JBII: Any other technical issues that you predict will come up during this lame duck?
BD: The lame duck session will likely focus on addressing the federal budget given that the current authorization expires Dec. 11 and will require action to keep the government funded and operating. Passing a National Defense Authorization Act is also priority, as well as dealing with the issues around ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and the Ebola challenge.
Issues impacting the information technology and communications sectors will most likely be taken up once the next Congress is convened.