Politics

Tech Fellowship Expands After Embarrassing Facebook Hearing

TechCongress hopes to place 10 fellows in 2019

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s April testimony exposed a lack of technical knowledge in Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Among the complex problems that Facebook poses to Congress, at least one has an easy solution: Most lawmakers don’t understand technology. So they need to hire more people who do.

That’s according to Travis Moore, a former staffer whose nonprofit aims to increase tech savvy on the Hill. TechCongress, a fellowship program his organization started with two recipients in 2015, is expanding and accepting applications for a class of up to ten to be placed in congressional offices in January.

“Technological issues are challenging,” Moore said. “They are complicated. And they are not issues you can learn on the go the way you can with other sectors.”

Moore cringed with many others last April as lawmakers subjected Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to hours of questions that were widely regarded as uninformed and incoherent.Also watch: Diamond and Silk Tell Congress ‘Facebook Censored Our Free Speech’

“They couldn’t even agree on the definition of the problem,” Moore said. “This gets to their lack of understanding of how the platform operates.”

The hearing was the first national display of a technological deficit in Congress that Moore first encountered years ago, he said. 

As the legislative director for former California Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Moore searched in vain to find anyone among thousands of Congressional staffers who could help him understand a controversial provision on a cybersecurity bill. It was one of the hardest of the roughly 1,700 vote recommendations he worked on during his six years in Waxman’s office, Moore said.

Since then, he said, his group has identified only seven legislative staffers in the House and Senate who have a tech background. Everyone else looks to the executive branch or outside groups, who often have their own agendas at play, he said. 

The TechCongress fellowship was created with the idea that an independent and functional government requires technological expertise, Moore said. 

Past fellows have come from careers in naval intelligence, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and biotechnology, among other fields. They have been placed with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, on the right, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., on the left.

Fellows have worked on legislation covering electronic records and medical devices, the warrantless searching of cell phones at the Mexican border and the response to the 2015 cybersecurity breach at the Office of Personnel Management.

Moore hopes they have also helped convince lawmakers and committees of the value of hiring people with technological expertise.

“Technology touches everything,” he said.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.