If you had the technology skills and opportunity to transform your government for the digital era, would you do it?
In 2015, Travis Moore attended the Code for America annual summit, a collection of some of the most talented civic tech leaders in the country, all working to build a government for the digital age. Travis couldn’t help but notice that many of the people and partnerships involved weren’t working directly with Members of Congress. “I was working with former Representative [Henry] Waxman at the time, and I remember wondering: Of all these people, who is working to bring tech into Congress? Aside from Seamus Kraft and a few others, no one was really doing it.”
Through his time in the policymaking world, Travis learned that most Members of Congress weren’t able to explain fundamental technological concepts. Very few had any tech training. “This was a huge problem,” Travis explained. “In today’s world, tech isn’t just a slice of the policy-making pie. It’s the crust that impacts everything. In essence, every policy issue in the 21st century is also a technology policy issue.” So, while the work of Code for America is both productive and forward-thinking, Travis felt that more was necessary. Technology leaders needed to be truly embedded into the policy-making process within Congress. And so TechCongress was born.
TechCongress: Bringing Technology Brain Power to the United States Government
For decades, universities, partnerships, and other organizations have been bringing doctors, scientists and experts from various fields into Congress via fellowships. They bring valuable skills and perspective to the table for Members of Congress. TechCongress is intended to connect the same brain power from the world of technology with Congress. The 12-month fellowship allows a fellow to work directly for a Member of Congress or Congressional Committee and spend their time focused on technology-related issues like NSA surveillance reform, encryption, cybersecurity, and more. In launching TechCongress, Travis had three main goals:
- Prove the value of technology expertise so that Congress will start to prioritize that in its hiring decisions, steadily closing the knowledge gap.
- Build cross-sector leaders. The fellowship produces technology leaders who can operate in both the tech and policy-making worlds. This is critical given that private sector technology leaders need an understanding of policy-making now more than ever. As Travis pointed out, “With products like automated vehicles in existence, policy-making related to technology is going to reach unprecedented levels, and tech leaders need to be ready for that.”
- Create a hub. As the fellowship grows, TechCongress will be able to spur innovation and continually refresh energy levels and critical thinking. Each wave of fellows will be working on the latest challenges and bring knowledge of cutting edge technology.
TechCongress launched in 2016 from Travis’ home-base in San Francisco. This year, he’s focused on applying the lean start-up methodology to build and test the minimal viable product. Two fellows are currently supporting Members of Congress (one with a Republican Representative, and one with a Democrat). The program will expand to four fellows in 2017.
The Search for Financial Sustainability
For Travis, the biggest challenge in getting started was being an individual founder. Not only does having a co-founder double your manpower, but it grows the start-up’s decision-making and strategic thinking abilities. Not surprisingly, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, Travis discovered that having a co-founder is a bedrock principle in San Francisco. Venture capitalists are less likely to consider your project if you’re operating alone. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d work with a co-founder,” Travis admitted.
Despite this challenge, Travis was able to find support and launch. TechCongress is currently supported by the think tank New America. Looking ahead, one of Travis’ major objectives for 2017 is to achieve financial sustainability. “That is effectively the entirety of my 2017 focus,” Travis explained. “Often, there are people who want to help you launch. There are others who want to help you sustain your project once you’re up and running. There is often a gap between the two, and I have to figure out how to cross that gap so that TechCongress can grow sustainably.”
That is a significant challenge, but Travis is fueled by the progress he’s already seen. He remembers his first check-in with the 2016 fellows as a particularly meaningful milestone. Both fellows dove into their work with passion, and within the first month of the program, they were already engaged in meaningful conversations related to the Office of Personnel Management data breach and regulation of electronic health records management standards. “It validated my hypothesis that Congress needs this expertise, and people with that expertise are going to be put to work very effectively,” Travis recalls with excitement.
Words for the World: Take Action
In the digital era, effective use of technology is paramount, and work like Travis’ is critically important.
You can be part of the solution by making a contribution. If you know someone who would make a great TechCongress fellow, nominate them here. In doing so, you recognize and validate the importance of their skillset and help Travis identify the next tech leader to make an impact for the United States.
Not a U.S. Citizen? Not to worry. Share this report on the role of technology in government and help move the conversation forward in your country.
To learn more about TechCongress, visit http://www.techcongress.io/. Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.