Dem Senator Cory Booker: Federal Government ‘Choking Innovation’

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said the federal government is “choking innovation” instead of creating an environment for it to flourish.

Booker, the former mayor of Newark, N.J., also said federal government rules and regulations on drones are blocking technological advances.

He recommended the government open up datasets to fuel innovation.

“In New York, you can get an app, go to any restaurant and get any health data. Why should that health data be the privy of government alone? So I come to the United States Senate and I’m like, ‘wait a minute, the reason why we empower lobbyists in the Senate in the first place is because it’s so opaque, you can’t get data.’ We literally, if you want documents from the Senate, they are on a format that’s not readable, not XML, you have to get PDF files. Imagine if we, just in the Senate, did what industry is doing, what local governments are doing, opening up and making it more transparent,” Booker said at the Techonomy Policy conference.

“When you want to do some innovations on the web, its easy for you to find the best innovators to help you do it. The Senate – just to get certified as a vendor, it is such a difficult process that if she and I wanted to do something, we can’t select from genius best minds. Yet there’s only two or three people that are approved to do that,” Booker added, referring to Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

Booker cited the lack of cloud technology in the federal government as a specific example of the government lagging behind the private sector.

“Government is not moving at the speed of innovation. In fact, we are light years behind. In the Senate, we don’t even use cloud technology,” he said. “The Department of Defense is in the cloud now but we’re not even there yet. So even within our own house we are so far behind.”

Booker, a member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said the nation has passed the era of “e-government.”

“That was a decade or two ago. We’re now at we-government, where we’re finding ways to empower other people to partner with us, opening up datasets; what the public can do when they get their access to information to hold us accountable, to push, advocate and advance our society.”

Booker and Fischer, members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said they have worked together on a host of issues, including surface transportation.

“He’s just been a great partner to have and I think that will continue. It happens in the Senate. You don’t hear about it but it happens all of the time and I think it’s on issues maybe that the general public or the media doesn’t focus on and so the public doesn’t hear how we are able to come together,” Fischer said.

Booker said the technological potential of surface transportation in America, such as drones, is “mindboggling.”

“If you start thinking about the potential for drones to take traffic off our roads, autonomous cars, so we’ve partnered on writing letters about autonomous cars,” he said.

Booker lamented the FAA for preventing innovation with drones.

“If the FAA was as they are around the time we innovated with air travel they would have probably not allowed planes to get off the ground because they would have slapped them with so many regulations,” he said.

“Our FAA is not even promulgating a regulatory framework that allows innovation in this space, so what are innovators doing? They are going to other countries. Right now in places like France they are using drones to do mine surveys, saving time, saving money, fixing holes, saving lives. Our regulatory framework is not allowing innovation to thrive in this country.”

Booker said the FDA as well as the FAA are “constraining the kind of atmosphere for innovation” that is needed in America. He called for the passage of a bipartisan technology agenda, which would include reforming the H1B visa process.

“Stanford and others, NJIT in New Jersey, I’ve got to plug my great Jersey tech schools, will tell me that folks come in, we subsidize their education, the best minds from the globe and then as soon as their student visas are over we kick them out of the country,” he said.

“There’s a whole bunch of issues which Senator Fischer and I and others are starting to drill down on and just say, ‘hey wait a minute, something is seriously wrong in our country because we are now choking innovation as opposed to creating an environment where innovation can flourish.’”