Lawmaker Proposes Federal Institute of Technology and New Contracting Set-Aside

Rep. Ro Khanna

Rep. Ro Khanna Jose Luis Magana/AP

The 21st Century Jobs Package would create a federal agency for training the workforce of the future and incentivize federal contracting officials to buy from vendors who hire rural American workers.

A congressman representing Silicon Valley is proposing the creation of a federal agency and a new workforce-focused set-aside for federal contracting as part of a plan to invest in technology education and job opportunities in rural areas.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced the 21st Century Jobs Package, which includes several provisions that would directly affect federal agencies, such as the creation of a new agency: the Federal Institute of Technology, or FIT.

Khanna’s proposal would establish FIT outposts at up to 30 locations across the nation. At first, the plan will be to build physical facilities near other established technology and innovation hubs, such as universities and incubators. Once the FIT itself is well-established, the agency would launch new “stand-alone operations in areas without strong existing university bases,” according to a bill summary put out by Khanna’s office.

“The vision, as in the past, is to marry federal resources and guidance with local initiative,” the summary states.

The bill also includes a request for $900 billion over 10 years to spend on research and development in “emerging technologies like advanced manufacturing, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and cybersecurity.”

“This would raise total public R&D spending to 1% of GDP by the end of the period, returning us to our role as an international leader,” according to the summary. “Most importantly, it would create as many as 3 million good new jobs per year.”

The legislation would also create a new set-aside for federal contracts. While most set-aside goals target small business owners from various socioeconomic background—such as women-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses—the bill would introduce incentives focused on the vendor’s workforce.

Under the proposal, federal contracting officers would be pushed toward software vendors that employ at least a partial U.S.-based workforce, especially from rural and hard-hit economic areas.

“This legislation will give more favorable consideration to bids where at least 10% of the computer programming for the software is completed in America's rural and disadvantaged minority areas,” the summary states.

The bill would also give tax incentives to the vendors who hire graduates from FIT programs.

While the legislation has a number of federally-focused proposals, more than half of the meat of the bill deals with new educational and training opportunities, hiring incentives for rural and minority workers, and funding for more teachers and tech at underserved schools.

The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Nanette Barragan, D-Calif., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Dwight Evans, D-Penn., Jim Himes, D-Conn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Darren Soto, D-Fla., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.