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Congress needs to rethink its approach to technology policy

Congress needs to rethink its approach to technology policy


Schoolhouse Rock may have taught a generation of Americans how ideas become law, but when it comes to tech policy, the “just a bill” approach is not the right strategy.

Under Schoolhouse Rock rules, members of Congress introduce bills to the specific committee with jurisdiction over that topic. This works for many issues, but not for technologies that impact many sectors and crisscross jurisdictional boundaries of congressional committees. Therefore, policies guiding technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence require a holistic approach that explores how critical technologies can work together to benefit the economy, the public sector, and American innovation.

Consider the invention of the Internet. Initially, it was classified as a secure military communications tool. But over the decades, the technology has evolved to become ubiquitous and used by every government agency, business, and consumer, regardless of sector, organization size, or demographic. The Internet is also the backbone that enables cloud access to cutting-edge technologies like AI, machine learning, and quantum computing.

Just as the Internet permeates all kinds of businesses and industries, the ubiquity of technology policy also crosses the boundaries of Congressional committee jurisdictions. For example, a committee responsible for national security looks at technology from one perspective, but intellectual property concerns are in another. Technology can also play a role in drug discovery, infrastructure development, and power grid resiliency, all of which fall under different Congressional committees. This web of committee jurisdictions is why Congress cannot shoehorn technology policy into siloed government programs. Such limitations hinder the effectiveness of programs and the government's ability to best serve public sector challenges.

To most effectively harness the power of technology to solve problems like emergency management and response, supply chains, and sustainability, Congress must think beyond traditional committee jurisdiction. The new bipartisan Task Force on AI is taking a step in the right direction by consulting with several committees at once. The Task Force will produce a report of guidance, forward-looking recommendations, and bipartisan policy proposals to help Congress and the Administration advance critical technology policy more efficiently and effectively.

This broad approach should be applied to all technology policies. For example, the National Quantum Initiative Act enacted in 2018 focuses solely on quantum. However, during the 2023 reauthorization process, a House committee expanded the bill to include hybrid quantum-classical technologies (technologies in which quantum computing works synergistically with classical computing). The bill also encouraged greater intergovernmental collaboration among federal agencies to identify use cases for quantum hybrid technologies.

Some bills currently do not take an integrated approach and could lead to siloed programs. The CHIPS Act created 10 technology hubs, including AI, robotics, and quantum technologies, but did not consider how they would work together. Another example is evident in the latest Technology Modernization Fund call for AI projects. The Administration and Congress need to ensure that these programs support interactions between technologies, rather than focusing on one siloed technology.

Congress has begun to incorporate hybrid technologies into policy as a more holistic approach to technology policy. For example, the Senate has introduced the Future of AI Innovation Act, which would authorize public-private partnership testbeds for technologies such as quantum hybrid computing, robotics, and AI. In the House, the Wildfire Technologies DEMO Act would create a wildfire mitigation testbed program that would include technologies such as AI, quantum computing, and quantum hybrid applications.

It is clear that a “just a bill” approach does not work for technology policy. While we may not be able to dramatically change the legislative mechanisms that create overlapping jurisdictions among congressional committees, we can align lawmakers’ approach to technology policy and the inclusion of hybrid technologies in federal programs. Considering how these innovative tools can work together will foster the adoption and deployment of important emerging technologies to address public sector problems facing the nation today.




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