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 Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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