(Photo courtesy Reboot Congress '17)
When Edward Snowden released thousands of classified NSA documents, Travis Moore was tasked with learning about the information fast. As the former legislative director for U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, Moore scrambled to find technical expertise on bulk metadata, the NSA’s programs, and the implications of the breach. Ultimately, he had to look outside the halls of Congress.
With tech-related issues continuing to gain importance, the experience left him looking to bring more expertise to the Capitol Hill. Moore created TechCongress, a 13-month fellowship that places technologists either in congressional offices or committees to provide knowledge on various legislation, emerging technologies, and concerns.
From now until September 28, TechCongress will accept applications for next year’s cohort.
According to Moore, successful candidates possess three traits:
- Technical ability: Everyone from full stack engineers to self-taught developers are welcome to apply.
- Tech translation skills: “We need people that can explain complex, technical topics—what is personal identifiable information, what is bulk metadata—to a member of Congress that’s never logged in to Gmail,” Moore explained.
- Proven track record of working collaboratively on teams: Working on the Hill often means juggling competing interests and personalities at a fast pace, therefore the TechCongress team has a vetted interest in bringing in expert collaborators.
TechCongress is a young program, having only started in 2015, but they’ve already stumbled upon interesting takeaways. One was the level of veteran interest. In their first year, three of their top five candidates included veterans. Two of them later became inaugural fellows. For 2017, Moore and his team plan to focus on bringing in more veterans and diversifying their program with more female fellows.
Fellows receive first-hand experience on the Hill as a staffer. JC Cannon, former TechCongress fellow from the inaugural class, told Technical.ly that the most important thing the fellows gain is an understanding of how Congress works. He came to quickly understand the need for his expertise.
“Legislative issues such as communication encryption, drones and bulk collection require input from those familiar with the technology. I soon became the go-to person for [congressional] staffers with technical questions,” Cannon said.
He wasn’t only weighing in on the hot-button issues about the future of technology. During his time on the Hill, Cannon worked on a health subcommittee. For his part, Moore figured that the fellowship program would focus on more traditional tech policy like IT or cybersecurity in their first few years before branching out to other committees. It was another sign of the need for the expertise that the fellows can offer.
“Decent government decision making and policymaking in the 21st century requires having an understanding of technology infrastructure that underlies all of these issues,” Moore said.