The first session of the 114th Congress begins today. This past November, Republicans took control of the Senate and expanded their advantage in the House of Representatives. This dynamic sets up a seemingly unavoidable confrontation between Congress and President Obama on a range of different issues. In recent years, Congress has reached achieved historic levels of gridlock, and there seem to be few issues where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground. However, innovation policies, which are popular and bipartisan might be an area where the president and Congress could make headway. Here are a few proposals that the president and Congress should consider.
Recently Facebook caught flak for conducting research on its own users. The company altered news feeds to assess if it had an emotional impact on users. In a TechTank post, Cameron Kerry argued that the controversy was “not really about what the company can do but what it should do.” New legislation is needed to address this issue. The Obama administration has proposed the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Republicans and Democrats in Congress should be able to find a way to better protect consumer privacy, which is also a political winner for both parties. Ensuring that Internet users feel safe online will promote e-commerce and the economy as a whole.
Teachers are developing and implementing creative new approaches for how to use technology in schools. Blended learning, flipped classrooms, MOOCs, virtual schools are all increasing in popularity. Some of these models will work better than others for students but little research is being done to evaluate their effectiveness. Both liberals and conservatives support using technology to improve education systems, and research into the effectiveness of new educational policies and classroom technology is traditionally left to the federal government. Promoting the digital revolution in classrooms could have huge benefits for generations to come.
The federal government occupies about 80 percent of unused spectrum in the United States, according to some estimates. Much of that is necessary for essential communication and defense purposes and some of it is not. There is broad agreement that the federal government should relinquish some of its spectrum. But, before that can happen lawmakers need more information about how spectrum is being used currently by the government. Both sides of the aisle in Congress and the White House should support a comprehensive spectrum audit. Then policy makers can make smart decisions about how to auction or share specific bandwidth waves with industry. Those new policies could pay huge dividends enabling a new generation of innovators.
The recent cyberattacks on Sony underscore the vulnerable state of American companies and infrastructure to cyberattacks from both state and non-state actors. At a recent Brookings event, Dean Garfield, the President and CEO of the Information Technology Council, suggested that new cybersecurity legislation could focus on improving information sharing in the private and public sectors. Such new laws could also support current Department of Homeland Security and National Institute of Standards and Technology efforts to analyze and assess threats. Strong political support from business ought to generate more than enough pressure to pass new legislation in Washington.