Lede of the day courtesy of Washington Monthly:
Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful people in Washington, uses a flip phone. The kind of phone with a tiny screen and real buttons, designed for making actual phone calls, not writing emails. But then, the Senate minority leader rarely emails, telling the New York Times a few years ago that he sends about one every four months. In case manufacturers stop making his favorite flip phone, Schumer has stockpiled ten of them.
The article goes on to make the larger point that the people making decisions about high-tech issues like social media algorithms, cryptocurrency, AI, and cybersecurity are mostly, like Schumer, Luddites:
Schumer’s practically a techie compared to Lindsey Graham, though. The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee told NBC’s Meet the Press in 2015, “I don’t email . . . I’ve never sent one.” The Luddite tendencies extend to other members of Congress. When Senator Richard Shelby needs to write to his staff, he favors handwritten notes. “I’ve been here a while; I’m a little older than y’all,” he told Politico,by way of justification. When Paul Ryan paid a visit in 2014 to Jim Sensenbrenner, who at the time was a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, he found the congressman tapping out letters on an IBM Selectric II.
Some are suggesting it's time to bring back the Office of Technological Assessment (OTA) a program that was disbanded during the Gingrich era:
Part of the problem was that members and staff didn’t have enough in-house knowledge even to choose which outside experts to consult—a role the OTA used to play. “Staff can get any number of industry lobbyists, or think tanks, or advocacy groups, or even academics to come in and give them opinions, and I think that’s not sufficient,” said Zach Graves, an associate fellow at the right-of-center think tank R Street and the head of policy at Lincoln Network, a conservative tech nonprofit. “A lot of these experts have other motives. Think tanks have donors and ideologies, and having worked in that space for a while, the quality of work is very inconsistent.” The result is a war of experts, each with their own data and diagnosis of the problem.
Another option is to do away with salary caps for congressional staffers in some cases. When a tech professional can make 2-3 times more in the private sector, you're not going to get the best people working for the government at a time when tech expertise is critical. Relying on lobbyists to help form tech policy seems like the worst possible path, though it is most surely the path of least resistance.