To enhance the dialogue between the tech sphere and the world of politics, a nonpartisan think tank has launched a fellowship to place technologists in congressional offices.
Announced earlier this month by New America’s Open Technology Institute, the TechCongress fellowship comes among complaints that the government is failing to keep pace with technological innovation, a challenge that is “compounded by a lack of technology expertise to inform policymaking on complex issues like cybersecurity and digital copyright,” according to the mission statement.
Travis Moore, TechCongress founder, worked for six years as the director of operations under former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and found himself continually frustrated by the lack of an objective, tech-savvy in-house counsel.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about Congress and technology, on a whole range of things — not just technical knowledge, but use of tools and infrastructure within the institution,” Moore said in an interview. “When tech issues came up, I had no one to call who could answer questions with technical knowledge and expertise. I spent the last year thinking about how Congress was failing to modernize.”
The Office of Technology Assessment, the federal agency responsible for providing independent technological analysis to Congress, was eliminated in 1995, leaving what some in the tech world have called a knowledge gap that has not been refilled.
Unlike the health care and science industries, which have established fellowship programs through organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Congress is conspicuously lacking in experts to field questions about tech issues — at a time when cybersecurity and big data are emerging as national issues.
“There’s a gold standard for fellowships. There are programs for doctors and nurses, which creates an ecosystem of people with expertise,” Moore said. “If you compare that to the tech-centric committees, you don’t have that knowledge. I see the innovation fellows being an important part of filling that gap.”
TechCongress will place three fellows on the Hill by early 2016, for a tenure of nine months, which Moore said he hopes will be extended for future fellows. In selecting candidates, TechCongress will emphasize broad knowledge and the ability to translate technological knowledge over specific areas of expertise.
“We’re looking for folks with tech and subject matter, folks that can be translators — translate the knowledge to an audience that’s often not as technologically sophisticated,” Moore said.