Garrett Johnson

American competitiveness requires a smarter Congress
Increasing science and technology advice would be an important first step

OPINION — Technological advancements are rapidly changing the American economy and workforce. At the same time, lawmakers increasingly appear to lack the capability to understand and respond effectively to this transformation. Flip phone-wielding lawmakers may have been cutting edge in the 1990s, but not in today’s Congress, which routinely grapples with complex scientific and technological issues such as gene editing, cryptocurrency, facial recognition and digital privacy. Not to mention, they must oversee $150 billion in federal R&D funding that helps fuel future innovations.

Out of 541 members, the current Congress has only two scientists and eleven engineers. Most have backgrounds in law or business, which is obvious when hearings start to get technical. This gap has to be filled by congressional staff and support agencies. Yet only 15 percent of senior congressional aides themselves think staff have the knowledge, skills and abilities to support members’ official duties. And just 24 percent think staff have enough access to high-quality, nonpartisan expertise within the legislative branch, according to a 2017 survey.