In the ever-evolving landscape of technology and policy, organizations like TechCongress play a crucial role in bridging the gap between these two realms. Last year, Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) began working with TechCongress to connect technologists and policymakers in Congress.
Since 2016, TechCongress has placed 95 fellows in Congressional offices, intending to build a new generation of technology leaders. And as technology touches more issues under consideration on Capitol Hill, TechCongress aims to increase the availability of technical knowledge through the fellowship programs, and ultimately, help technologists play a bigger role in the development of tech policy.
TechCongress just announced their most recent cohort. Fellows found placements with many of the most influential offices in Congress, including Sen. Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Lummis (R-WY), Sen. Romney (R-UT), Senate Majority Whip Thune (R-SD), Sen. Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Sen. Ossoff (D-GA), as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Finance Committee.
Read on for a Q&A diving into TechCongress’ mission and its contributions to the intersection of technology and governance with Travis Moore, the organization’s founder and executive director.
Could you share more about what inspired you to start TechCongress? What are the core values that drive TechCongress’ initiatives?
I started TechCongress because I needed it when working as a staffer in Congress. I was increasingly confronting tech issues – needing to get up to speed on technical topics, like how companies store and anonymize Personal Identifiable Information (PII) – but was unable to find anyone in Congress that had the requisite skills and expertise to brief me. I started TechCongress – bringing technologists to support policymaking on Capitol Hill – to solve this problem.
Our core principle is a vigilant focus on adding value — to our people, our institutions, and our society.
It’s no secret that Congress has its challenges. But it is also a deeply human institution. Staff are the engine of the legislative branch, and it’s a tiny place. Congress employs 12,900 individuals. For some context, that’s 15% the size of Meta. Of those, 3,500 are policy or legislative staff, and of those, about 600 drive technology policy. We’re working to support those 600 individuals.
Regardless of what you might think from the outside, the vast majority of Congressional staffers – regardless of their ideology – join Congress because they believe in the institution and believe in working on behalf of the American people. They’re massively overworked and under-resourced. Our fundamental role – and our central value – is to help those staff better serve the public.
We’re also nonpartisan. We work with a diverse set of political voices and do not take positions on issues. We bake equity and inclusion into everything we do and work hard to serve as a model for Congress. We are building a new generation of technology leaders, and support our staff and fellows with professional development, networking, and freedom to tinker and test new ideas.
Congress and Washington need more builders and problem solvers. Those are the individuals we ultimately want to bring onto Capitol Hill.
Why should technologists consider applying for a TechCongress fellowship on Capitol Hill? What unique opportunities does this experience offer?
Spending a year in Congress is the best education you can get into how government and policy work, full stop. You should think of this program like a Master’s degree in Congress and public policy. We have six weeks of training on the front end of the program. From there, you get to choose your placement in Congress. We help you build relationships and find work with one of your political heroes.
More importantly, technologists should consider applying because we need more leaders bridging technology and government. Over the last decade, tech ate the world. And now, new technologies are running head-first into the regulatory state. Tech now undergirds finance, health care, transportation – literally every sector. Even our democracy itself.
Our ability to preserve innovation in the United States – while building a society and an economy that closes inequities for historically marginalized groups – will succeed or fail based on whether tech and government work in harmony or in conflict.
21st-century leaders need to be able to speak to both tech and government, and this program is the best accelerant tech thinkers can get into politics and policy.
Could you share a success story or an instance where a TechCongress fellow's contribution had a notable impact on policy decisions?
How about two!
Alumni Alice Hau authored the National R&D Strategy for Distributed Ledger Technology Act, which was ultimately included in the 2023 Defense Authorization Act. The bill requires the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in coordination with the National Science Foundation and National Institute for Standards and Technology to develop a national R&D strategy for web3 and decentralized technology. It’s spurring both research and investment in how the decentralized web enables new types of commercial transactions; protects privacy and increases individuals' data sovereignty; and increases the participation of populations historically underrepresented in tech and finance.
In 2022, Fellow Jack Cable wrote a provision that was signed into law as part of the Senate appropriations bill, which directed the National Cyber Director to conduct a study on addressing memory safety in the federal government. This was the first time that memory safety has been discussed by Congress.
This is a seemingly esoteric topic in security that has the potential to address over 2/3 of software vulnerabilities.
Nine months later, the Senate bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024 included a requirement for DoD to adopt a memory-safe software policy, which we expect will be signed into law. In addition, the National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan included an initiative to "champion the adoption of memory-safe programming languages and open source software," and one to "prioritize investments to accelerate the maturity, adoption, and security of memory-safe programming languages.”
How does TechCongress foster a sense of community among its fellows and alumni?
We are fortunate to have an extremely active alumni network. There are many opportunities to stay engaged with TechCongress as an alumni. We have an active Slack channel where fellows and alumni collaborate, sharing events, jobs, and news stories.
We host a speaker series with leaders in tech and government, like former Representative (and 2024 Presidential candidate), Will Hurd; Executive Director of Data & Society, Janet Haven; Former White House Deputy CTO, Nicole Wong; Federal Trade Commission Commissioner, Alvaro Bedoya; and Code for America Founder, Jennifer Palkha.
We also host quarterly networking events with other tech fellowships like the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, Mozilla Fellowship, the Decentralized Future Council Fellowship, Lincoln Network Policy Hackers, Aspen Tech Policy Hub, and Day One Project.
Additionally, TechCongress Alumni are integrated into our training and orientation program, serving as mentors and advisors to fellows as they begin the fellowship and search for their placements.
What advice would you give to individuals who are passionate about technology and policy and are considering getting involved with TechCongress?
TechCongress serves an incredibly important role, connecting Congressional offices with the technological knowledge needed to navigate the complex tech-driven policy landscape. TechCongress is currently recruiting 12 - 16 fellows for the January 2024 Fellowship, and we are seeking early- and mid-career technologists to serve in both Democrat and Republican offices.
TechCongress also welcomes nominations! If you nominate a veteran, woman or nonbinary individual, underrepresented person of color, or person with a disability for the program, and they apply, are accepted, and join the program as a fellow, we will award you a $500 Referral Award.
To learn more or apply, visit TechCongress.io.