Because the legislative process often is slow and lags the emergence of new technology, Congress needs to provide a legislative framework that gives Federal agencies the resources they need to adopt promising technologies more quickly, said Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., on July 14.

“We want the United States to be at the forefront of emerging technology, but technology moves very quickly, and legislation moves very slowly. It’s a complicated match,” said Rep. McNerney during NextGov’s Emerging Technology Summit.

But to keep pace with emerging technologies, “lawmakers have to create a legislative framework that enables Federal agencies to do their jobs and acquire the proper resources and experts,” he said.

Rep. McNerney highlighted the importance of lawmakers providing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – as a chief regulatory agency – with the proper resources to hire technologists that can help guide other Federal agencies through the changing tech landscape.

“The FTC is one of those regulatory agencies that we must ensure has the proper resources to help the Federal government navigate emerging technologies. This is especially critical because we are not expert technologists, so our job is to make sure agencies have the resources they need to function properly,” Rep McNerney said.

“Our job is to provide the public with the benefits that these technologies bring. But we also need to make sure that the technology is securely adopted and there are certain regulations in place,” he added.

The lack of expertise in Congress on emerging technologies is another challenge that lawmakers run into when drafting legislation or regulations in this area. Congress previously had the assistance of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) – established in 1972 – to educate members on tech issues. However, it was effectively shuttered in 1995 when its operations were defunded.

Several academic and industry experts believe it is time to bring back the OTA as the technology landscape continues to grow. Rep. McNerney highlighted current legislation that would provide members of Congress with assessments of probable technology application impacts.

The congressman explained that while the OTA Improvement and Enhancement Act may not get passed during this Congress, the bill is something many lawmakers are considering.

“Like others in Congress, I would like to see OTA reestablished to help inform us on these difficult technical issues. Bringing back the OTA will give us the latest advice on how to deal with these issues,” Rep McNerney said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.