Tech Experts Call for More Federal Funding and Nurturing for Blockchain

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Congress needs to issue guidance for the budding technology.

Policymakers should increase funding and issue guidance for blockchain innovation to ensure America retains its technological edge in the world, experts said Tuesday.

“Europe and China and Japan are not standing still. They are investing heavily into [blockchain],” Victoria Adams, ConsenSys government practice lead, said on a panel hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Congressional Blockchain Caucus in Washington. “If you want to build up the ability of these nascent industries to deliver, provide funding. I mean, if you are going to change the world, let’s spend it on something decent.”

The panel addressed the policy challenges and opportunities blockchain creates as a budding technology. It was in coordination with the ITIF’s release of a new report on how policymakers should approach the new tech space.

Compared to other nations, Adams called the amount of money that Congress has appropriated and spent on blockchain in recent years “laughable … a joke when it comes to the bajillions of dollars that other federal governments spend.”

And though most people generally want to reflect on the impact that cryptocurrencies can have through blockchain, Adams said the focus should actually shift to other possibly ground-breaking implementations of the new tech, including its potential to revolutionize identity management, the delivery of government services, warfare and even food safety.

“What the federal government needs to do is to begin to invest as it invested in the aerospace industry, as it invested in the technology industry, as it invested in the early stages of the internet. We need that help to start leading on these more expansive applications of this technology,” Adams said.

Alan Cohn, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson who counsels clients on a range of blockchain- and cryptocurrency-related issues, said it’s imperative for Congress to focus on jurisdiction and figure out how they can work with agencies to enable innovation both in terms of the technology and operations and also in regulatory structures.

“This is really, I think, one of the key opportunities for Congress,” Cohn said. “There’s a lot of these types of requirements, goals and aspirational visions that are sitting in enacted legislation right now. So this is an opportunity to look at new pilots.”

As chief innovation officer of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and director of LabCFTC, Daniel Gorfine said he regularly corresponds with Congress and congressional oversight committees.

“They are very engaged on these topics [around blockchain],” he said.

Gorfine said as an agency, CFTC does not advocate for specific legislation but instead provides technical assistance when members of Congress come up with interesting new ideas.

“I would flag that federal financial regulators don’t have great latitude to do basic research and testing on emerging technologies,” Gorfine said.

Ahead of the panel, various members of the House of Representatives also spoke to what they saw as potentially trailblazing applications of blockchain, such as managing electronic health records, fighting against misinformation spread online and innovating supply-chain management.

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., urged attendees to consider the impact of blockchain in the fight for internet freedom across the globe.

“We see into places like Russia and China, where they are censoring people and blocking certain access to the internet, rating their citizens. How frighteningly ‘big brother’ would that be if our nation rated our citizens?” Soto said. “But this is the fight—and part of all of this is making sure that we continue to be a dominant force in innovation and in the internet.”