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10 stories that shaped tech policy in 2013

Kenneth Corbin | Jan. 2, 2014
From the NSA surveillance revelations to the troubled government healthcare website to a variety of issues that didn't make the mainstream news, here are the top tech policy stories that played out in 2013.

Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeatedly acknowledged the failure and vowed that it would get better, and soon. Obama said he was commissioning a "tech surge," and the administration summoned industry experts to Washington to help fix the site.

At year-end, had improved considerably. More than 1 million people have successfully signed up for new insurance plans, administration officials have said. In December, the White House brought in former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene to run the website. But the site remains a work in progress. To some in the tech sector, the rollout came as the latest reminder that the government too often takes a fundamentally flawed approach to IT projects — namely, going for the big score, when a more iterative, piecemeal cadence would yield better results.

"I don't think there's a lesson here that we haven't already learned more than once," says Doug Bourgeois, vice president of solutions and services with VMware's U.S. public sector division. "The big bang approach never worked, and yet here we are again with the big bang approach."

Patent Reform
Patent litigation is one of the costs of doing business in the tech sector. But the price tag has risen considerably in recent years, driven in great measure by frivolous litigation brought by so-called patent assertion entities — often dubbed patent trolls — that hold patents for the sole purpose of suing for infringement, many tech firms and trade groups have said.

Their complaints found a receptive audience in Congress. In early December, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would seek to cut down on the lawsuits brought by patent trolls by an overwhelming vote. Technology and retail trade groups, along with some digital rights advocates, hailed the passage of the Innovation Act, which would require plaintiffs to disclose the specific patents they are asserting up front and pay defendants' court fees if they lose the case, among other provisions.

The bill, which has drawn sharp criticism from groups representing inventors, university researchers and others, awaits action in Senate.

The Role of the Federal CIO
The federal government continued to press ahead with a number of sweeping IT initiatives over the past year. None drew the splashy headlines of the healthcare website, but departments and agencies, at varying pace, advanced plans to shift systems to the cloud, consolidate data centers and mobilize the workforce, to name a few. But the figures at the center of those rollouts — the agency CIOs — continued to operate with limited authority over budgeting, acquisitions and personnel.

The CIO of the federal government, Steve VanRoekel, along with many who hold that position at the agency level, made the case for granting CIOs more centralized authority and eliminating CIO positions at the subagency and bureau level. The House passed a bill to that end in June as part of legislation to fund the Pentagon, but the measure was left out of the final bill the Senate approved, leaving the question of federal CIO authority to return in the next congressional session.


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