In Congress, tech experience runs deep for four new members
Four techies will be among the new faces on Capitol Hill when Congress' new term begins Jan. 20. Here is a closer look at the quartet whose experience and agendas could be especially important for federal IT.
Republican Steve Daines, a fifth-generation Montana native, will replace GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana's sole House seat. Daines brings 28 years of private-sector experience in management and technology to the public sector.
Daines began his career in management operations for Proctor & Gamble before transitioning to an executive position with the cloud-computing startup RightNow Technologies, which was acquired in March by Oracle for $1.5 billion.
Daines told FCW he would like to see the federal government adopt the best practices in cloud computing "that we're seeing in the private sector." In addition, he said he wants to see federal agencies become more innovative.
"The federal government tends to be a laggard, not a leader in innovation," Daines said. "We need to look at what American businesses have been doing here in the last five to 10 years of adopting disruptive forces in the tech field – these forces are improving productivity and saving money, and that's in the government's best interest, too. I'm hoping to see the government adopt some practices to help it do more with less."
Daines favors increased transparency and efficiency regarding the agencies’ information and data policies, and said he is anxious to put his private-sector skills and technology background to work in attacking such looming issues as the fiscal cliff and national debt. He expressed interest in serving on the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Democrat Bill Foster, a former physicist, may be the only congressional hopeful to receive 31 endorsements from Nobel Prize winners. Foster, who represented Illinois’ 14th District from 2008 to 2010, defeated Republican Judy Biggert in the state’s redrawn 11th District to return to Congress.
Foster co-founded a theater-lighting company at age 19; according to his campaign website, Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc. now produces more than half of the theater lighting in the United States. He went on to work as a high-energy particle physicist and particle accelerator designer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and then ran successfully for Congress the first time in 2008.
Foster demonstrated his technical expertise in his prior stint in Congress, dealing with issues ranging from the use of drone aircraft to emergency federal response. He also showed interest in finance reform, serving on the Financial Services Committee and pushing forward several Wall Street reform amendments.
The Seattle Times called her "someone with sharp business and entrepreneurial skills," so it comes as little surprise that former Microsoft executive and business school graduate Suzan DelBene emphasizes innovation.
The self-described "tech person" and Alabama native now represents Washington state's first congressional district. In 2010, DelBene was the Democratic nominee for U.S. representative for Washington's 8th congressional district, but incumbent Republican Dave Reichert defeated her 54 percent to 46 percent.
DelBene's career began after earning a master's degree in business administration. She delved into biology and medical research, building on her undergraduate years as biology major. Shortly after, DelBene made the leap into the software technology industry and spent 12 years at Microsoft in various roles.
DelBene also served as president and CEO of startup Nimble Technology Inc., and helped launch drugstore.com as its original vice president of marketing and store development.
"To me, innovation is a critical part of the success in Washington state and in the country, and that means everything from basic research that's done in higher-education institutions all way through the R&D that's happening in many industries," DelBene told FCW. "I think it's incredibly important we continue stay ahead and make sure we have a strong, innovative community to lead the next generation of technology that's going to help our economy thrive."
It all boils down to understanding the complexity of the technology issues, she said. "Having real-world experience matters in these sort of issues and understanding their impact because it allows someone like me to understand what solutions we bring to the table," she said.
Many current policies need an overhaul because they fail to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology, DelBene said. "Spectrum and cybersecurity continues to need to be addressed, and obviously online privacy is going to be very important, as well as Internet sales tax."
As director of the Washington state Department of Revenue, DelBene worked to streamline processes to achieve savings. She recalls the challenge in trying to find COBOL programmers in a time when computer languages had long evolved. "My son is a computer science major in college, and they're not learning COBOL," she pointed out.
Technology can play a pivotal role in tight fiscal times – and give the government more bang for its buck, she said: "We need to understand that the investments we make in technology can help streamline processes in government and give us a great return on investment."
Rep.-elect Matthew Salmon maybe the newest representative for Arizona's 5th congressional district, but his Capitol Hill experience stretches back to 1994 when started his first stint in the House.
During the six years Salmon served, the Citizens Against Government Waste rated the Salt Lake City, Utah, native in its top five among all 535 members of Congress. In addition, Salmon was named a "Watchdog of the Treasury" six years in a row and earned the "Taxpayer Hero Award" from the Citizens Against Government Waste.
After three terms in Congress, Salmon ran unsuccessfully for governor of Arizona (losing to current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano), and then became president of the high-tech trade association COMPTEL.
Earlier in his career, Salmon was an Arizona State senator and a telecommunications executive in Arizona.