Nearly a decade after late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, described the Internet as “a series of tubes,” the famous phrase lives on as a reminder of how clueless some politicians remain about technology.
But how bad is that oblivion, really, among our lawmakers? According to Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., it’s pretty bad.
“We still have a significant number of senators or members of Congress who don’t have a computer on their desk,” he said. “That’s not the real world -- we need to bring Congress up to date.”
Traditionally, the government is at least a generation behind in technology, said McHenry, who spoke Sept. 30 at Data Transparency 2014, organized by the Data Transparency Coalition. As an example, he cited one government bureau that until 2006 used Windows 95 with a DOS prompt.
“2006,” McHenry marveled. “So government really needs to be brought up to speed.”
Although the Obama administration has taken strides in understanding and implementing technology, it remains a “lurching bureaucracy,” McHenry said. In particular, the Securities and Exchange Commission “has a great skepticism of technology,” he added.
Not all members of Congress are neo-luddites, of course. Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sponsored tech-oriented legislation, such as the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, and has been a vocal supporter of an open Internet.
He’s also been known to climb under desks and act as impromptu computer support, McHenry revealed.
The Republican congressman is “one of the most well-versed members of Congress when you talk about technology,” McHenry said. “It’s very easy to see that visually when you walk into his office and see his patents on his wall,” he added, referring to the nearly 40 patents Issa holds.
“He’s one of the few members of Congress who actually has a patent he crafted himself,” McHenry said.