Government and Congress are Woefully Unprepared for Change
Here is One Solution
Ever Watch a Congressional Hearing on a Technical Issue?
If you have, you likely were amused, and a bit worried. I think most often of hearings on the internet and social media as examples of this sort of exhibition. It is so often apparent that members of Congress have little clue as to exactly what the internet or social media are, and how they work.
Senior leaders in technology who are called to testify seem to be either bemused (and a bit condescending) or baffled as to how to explain what they do to this crowd. It might be a bit better among staffers, most of whom grew up in the information age, but for the most part, not all that much better.
The List Grows
While communications are the most common examples of this list, it is not the only such area. Certainly, understanding of social media leads the list, but there are other key areas as well that are mysteries to our would-be leaders.Ask just about any member of Congress (and no small number of cabinet officers, I suspect) how they think Blockchain technology affects the future of our economy. How about virtual money? Good idea or not, and why? How much regulation, when and by whom?
Climate change? How should we measure it? Thoughts on how we assess costs of actions or inactions? Or try having a good conversation with them on global health and pandemics. That one goes quickly to bumper sticker talk and whether masks are a good idea.
You pretty well, on all of these types of issue, will get a classic deer in the headlights look in reply. At best, you might get 2-3 lines from a memorized talking point.
This is not new. It seems to me that this is not some unusual set of circumstances. Rather, this is a normal condition. No doubt there were those who thought train travel across the continent would be impossible. People often cannot see far enough into the future to plan for what is coming. That is true for you and I, if we are honest.
The difference is that those in government and Congress have responsibilities to plan for those futures. We should plan on such shortfalls and look for ways to at least blunt the risks. This is, if not curable at least is treatable. We have the resources to do better.
A Better Solution
Could we not form a group designed to help with this? I am thinking of something I call The Future is Here Now Task Force. The idea is straight forward.
We will always have new innovations coming into our lives that could benefit from either regulation or being left alone. Knowing which course is better requires reasonably knowledgeable legislators and bureaucrats.
Why not create a small corps of people dedicated to assembling and sharing the information needed to do the job right? In the examples cited above, priority would be on bringing in people directly from the industries and entrepreneurs with hands on experience.
They could be a permanent cadre or contractors brought on for set times and in recurring periods to update. Match them up with specialists in training and education so the information gets transferred effectively for a widely varying audience.
Make this corps available on call, to meet requests, and to proactively offer orientations and things like field trips to see these issues on the ground.
I spent a year at the Brookings Institution, during which time we had such guided trips. They were invaluable for making the theoretical real. And they provided contacts for follow on discussions.
Where to Place the Corps?
This could be a stand-alone entity, but that seems a recipe for excessive overhead and for a group easier to overlook. Likely the better place to put them is as a new element of the Congressional Research Service, or perhaps the Library of Congress.
Both are long standing institutions with well deserved reputations. My own experience with both entities has been encouraging and useful. Seems a good place to build and engage this much needed capacity.
This same capacity could also be offered to states. State legislators and governors deal with these same issues at their level. People like insurance commissioners often do so. They could use some help as well. Remote learning technology makes reaching them easy to do.
Remember That Commercial?
There was a hilarious commercial on TV a couple of years ago that seems reminiscent of this conversation. In the commercial, grandparents come joyfully out of the front door to great their arriving grandchildren.
The seniors had arm load of equipment: smart phones, DVRs, tablets, etc. “We are so glad you are here,” they said. “None of this stuff works – can you fix them?”
Sounds like a lot of people in government. Time to bring them up to speed – at least those who can be brought up to speed.
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