When National Security Agency surveillance became a top issue on Capitol Hill, Travis Moore realized he didn't have the knowledge base to understand the technology — and neither did anyone else in Congress. Now he's working to change that.
In conjunction with the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, Moore launched a new technology fellowship for Congress on Oct. 1 known as "TechCongress ," which is designed to bring technology experts to Capitol Hill to bridge the technology-policy divide. “This program is about helping inject new ideas into Congress," Moore said in a phone interview. "But more importantly, it’s building an ecosystem of translators, of folks that can straddle the technology world and the world of government."
Moore worked for former Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., for six years, serving as legislative director during Waxman's final two years in office. Since the end of the 113th Congress, Moore has shifted his focus to the fellowship program, moving to California in March to better engage with tech groups and companies.
He has now witnessed the disconnect between policy and technology from both sides. Congress, in his view, does not understand technical nuances that can inform policy, and those in technology industries do not understand the complexities of Congress.
The goal of TechCongress is to foster a better understanding on both ends of the spectrum. In its first year, the program will consist of three fellows who will serve in the office of a member, committee or congressional support agency, such as the Congressional Research Service, from January through September.
As with some other fellowship programs, the participants will have the opportunity to choose their placements. According to the TechCongress website, these fellows will focus on technology issues and may be involved in briefing members/staffers and drafting legislation.
The fellows will receive a series of benefits financed through donations to the foundation, including a $52,500 salary for the nine months of service and relocation expenses.
In Moore's view, this fellowship is critical as technology permeates virtually every issue area, from the economy to national security.
"If Congress is able to be smart from the legislative side and understand how technology operates, it can be intelligent about unleashing innovation and helping our economy operate better. And it can be intelligent about securing our country from threats," Moore said.
The hope is that in 2017, the fellowship will be year-long and will continue to grow. Moore said he anticipates some fellows might continue to work in the legislative branch after their fellowship ends, but thinks most of them will probably return to the technology community, which would be a good thing.
“There are wins for both," Moore said, "because the goal is producing interdisciplinary, is producing folks that can speak both languages and bridge that divide”
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