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5 technology initiatives and reforms IT wants in Washington

Kenneth Corbin | April 4, 2014
Leaders from Microsoft, Cisco and other tech players are pressing their agenda as they meet with the White House and Congress this week. Some initiatives have been years in the making -- and will take many more years to see through -- but other reforms may not be far off.

So Chambers, Smith and others are working to revive momentum for immigration reform that would invite more skilled foreign workers, along the lines of provisions in a bill that passed in the Senate as part of a more comprehensive overhaul. But momentum for any big reform of the immigration system appears to have stalled in the House in the near term, particularly as mid-term elections approach.

2. STEM Education

In keeping with the theme of a shortage of workers trained in technical fields, the tech delegation is also pressing for reforms to the nation's education system that would expose more students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics - the so-called STEM fields - particularly at the K-12 level.

Smith offers an estimate that of the tens of thousands of high schools in the country, only around 2,500 offer an AP course in computer science. Some believe STEM education should be mandatory in secondary school.

"They all need to take computer science classes," says Weili Dai, president and co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, a semiconductor company. "If our country could do this, that's a game-changer."

In pushing for policies to promote STEM education, the tech lobby can cite ample economic data suggesting that degree holders in those fields are in greater demand and earn higher salaries than their non-STEM counterparts - though there are also studies that argue the counterpoint. But the White House champions efforts on both immigration and education reform to increase the supply of skilled workers, positioning the issue as a cornerstone of economic growth.

As Microsoft's Smith puts it, "When we're not educating enough people in our own country, and we're not bringing in enough people from other countries, the one thing we are doing is creating a recipe for jobs to move somewhere else."

3. Intelligence Reform

Many companies in the tech sector, particularly those offering cloud services to consumers, have sharply criticized some of the intelligence-gathering practices that have come to light from the disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

One such critic is Microsoft, which has joined Google and Yahoo in litigation seeking the ability to make more disclosures about the types of information the government is requesting, and how the companies that receive those requests respond.

It's a message tech leaders continue to bring up in meetings with policymakers and members of Congress, warning that the Snowden revelations have created a trust problem for many cloud companies, giving users and potential users fresh concerns about the safety of their information.

In that light, Microsoft and its allies press for an update to the legal framework for how the government can access people's digital information, including an overhaul of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.


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