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A New Congress Brings New Tech Priorities and Increased Oversight

November 12, 2018
In The News

Democrats’ House takeover and shifts in the Senate landscape are bound to shift Congress’s tech and cyber policies. Here’s a rundown.

Pushing on Privacy

For starters, you can expect the debate over online privacy to grow louder in the coming months, according to Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. Khanna listed personal privacy and data security among the party’s top tech priorities at a Washington Post event on Thursday. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., separately indicated privacy could become a key issue for the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the upcoming congressional term.

Democrats will also push to expand internet access to more Americans, retrain the workforce for the digital economy and reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality regulations, Khanna said.

However, the White House doesn’t expect the Democratic House takeover to affect its tech agenda, Chris Liddell, White House deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, said. The administration plans to continue its efforts to modernize federal IT and drive innovation by keeping regulators away from the tech sector, Liddell said.

Don’t Overlook Oversight

It remains unclear exactly how Democrats’ agenda will play out on the House Oversight Committee, which monitors federal contracting and IT issues.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is widely expected to take over the investigative body, and Reps. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., have been floated as potential chairs for the IT and Government Operations subcommittees. Kelly told Nextgov she hopes to focus on workforce retraining programs and accelerating government’s adoption of emerging technologies. Connolly said he expects the committee to increase pressure on agencies to comply with the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act and to be an advocate for the federal workforce.

Elsewhere in Congress, lawmakers have pledged investigations into White House digital security vulnerabilities, including the president’s alleged use of an unsecured smartphone.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was among the red state Senate Democrats ousted in Tuesday’s elections, leaving a vacancy for ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

McCaskill frequently pushed the committee on cybersecurity issues, including election security. She’s also the main sponsor of a bill that would give the Homeland Security Department increased authority to protect federal supply chains from cyber threats.

There’s no clear candidate to replace McCaskill as the committee’s top Democrat yet. Members Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., have also shown strong interest in cyber topics. Member Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also lost her seat Tuesday.

Here’s a Big Idea

Here’s a big idea for House Democrats to consider as they take control of the people’s chamber: How about a congressional digital service that’s modeled after the General Services Administration’s internal tech startup 18F and that launches technical fixes that improve constituent services.

That’s one of several dozen recommendations in the Demand Progress think tank’s “Get the House in Order” report that went online recently.

Other recommendations include ramping up cybersecurity training for lawmakers and House staffers, appointing a chief transparency officer or ombudsman and developing digital tools to assist the amendment process.