COMMENTARY

Hey, Congress, where are your IT champions?

Whatever your political persuasion, ignorance is no excuse for bad legislation.

The recent debate over anti-piracy bills showed just how serious a threat ignorance can be. Sponsors of the Senate’s Protect IP Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act might have had good intentions, but their attempts to put those intentions into enforceable and politically palatable provisions fell woefully short.

The bills featured broad-brush language that, according to many experts, created the potential for all manner of unintended consequences. Fortunately, the high-profile nature of the bills made it easy for Google, Wikipedia and other opponents to rally public support for their cause. In short, many people would argue, lawmakers were saved from their own mistakes.

We might not be so lucky next time. This is especially a concern with any IT-related legislation that addresses internal government operations. In areas such as cybersecurity, acquisition and program management — where the experts lack the bully pulpit held by industry giants — well-intentioned bad ideas could make it into law and create more problems than they solve.

And ignorance can lead to an even more insidious problem: passivity. If members of Congress are not comfortable with the technology involved, they might choose not to act at all. For example, budget pressures in the coming years will force the appropriations committees to make some tough choices. IT programs that defy easy explanation could get short shrift simply because they fall outside lawmakers’ comfort zone.

What the legislative branch needs now is a handful of lawmakers who can step up and take on technology initiatives. It’s a tall order. It requires them to dedicate the resources (i.e., staff time) needed to understand complex problems and devise appropriate solutions. And it calls for them to marshal the support of other lawmakers who are not so inclined. Without such champions, ignorance will exact its toll.

Any takers?

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Wed, Feb 8, 2012

The laws, policies, and rules of the entire telecommunications industry are biased in favor of the telecom giants. There is no competition and at legislative inaction is just as bad as legislative action. We're back to the “Gilded Age” of American robber barons and those that do their bidding. These are growth industries and content is king, expect nothing to be cheap and structured in a way where it slowly sucks the life out of innovation--and money from your wallet!

Wed, Feb 8, 2012 John Denver

Why are legal experts making technology decisions - at all? I don't attempt to make decisions about, say, foreign policy. Why would the lawyers feel they have the ability to make good decisions about technology? Sarbanes/Oxley is a good example of legal folks overstepping their bounds *with good intentions*, costing American companies Billions for little real benefit. This type of snafu is what gives our mentally challenged tea party folks cred...

Wed, Feb 8, 2012 Scot Texas

Having served as an elected official, your premise is wrong. Political persuasion for bad legislation requires ignorance as bedrock, with large helpings of arrogance envy, jealousy, and silly minded spite.
Much legislation today founded on a faulty sense of entitlement, envy, and poor impulse control. Stop Online Piracy Act is not dead by any means.

In the beginning, copyrights were not forever. We need to start with when a copyright ends, fair use of a copyright product and when and how public domain starts.

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