When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last year, many elected officials appeared confounded by how technologies like social media work. Congress’ stately halls have always contrasted with the flashy open floor plans of Silicon Valley and that chasm has been yawning wider as federal officials come to grips with how the tech industry is reshaping our world.
Derek Kilmer hopes to narrow that gap.
As a representative from Washington — a state with a robust tech industry — he’s preparing to lead a new effort to modernize Congress. Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named Kilmer chairman of a new committee tasked with bringing Congress into the 21st Century. Already, there seems to be a big appetite for a makeover among Kilmer’s colleagues.
“I’ve really been taken aback by how many current members have approached me since this committee was established and said, ‘well, I’ve got some ideas for you,'” Kilmer told GeekWire.
The bipartisan committee is still in its early days. In the coming weeks, its members will outline their priorities. Kilmer said his colleagues are particularly interested in technology issues, including improving transparency, cybersecurity, and communications between representatives and their constituents.
“It’s going to look for ways to make Congress work better and be more responsive to the American people,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer’s background is in economic development. He worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company advising clients in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. He went on to serve on the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County in Washington before running for office.
“Having worked in economic development, I see us really on the cusp of a new era that will be marked by whether or not Congress is a body that positions our economy to outcompete the rest of the world — or not,” Kilmer said. “And we’re only going to get there by modernizing this institution so that it actually reflects the priorities of our country.”
The committee is designed for bipartisanship, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. A two-thirds vote of approval is needed for any recommendations to move out of the committee.
Every 20 or 30 years, Congress forms a committee like this to take stock of its processes and adopt new technology.
“I would argue that maybe that should happen more frequently than every 20 years or so, but I think that is a healthy thing for an organization to do,” Kilmer said.
Although these efforts have become routine, there is one key difference this time around. The freshman class in the House is dominated by young, tech-savvy representatives who have seen the power of technology in their campaigns and careers.