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I came to the U.S. in the early 1990's, on a fellowship from an American university. I was exploring several countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but I decided on the U.S. because of its leadership in technology. I have been fortunate to have a great career here, including being appointed by President Obama as the CIO of the Department of Transportation and the FAA in his first term.
Now my "iKids" are growing up and I want them to thrive in the U.S. technology industry. But will this industry continue to flourish in U.S.? What can we do today to ensure our continued technology leadership in the future?
Why Tech Industries Grow
Tech industries grow because of the availability of research and development dollars, a high-quality education system, a tech-savvy workforce, a large local technology marketplace and government incentives. The U.S. has no intrinsic advantage in the technology industry. Past wins have been a function of dollars invested, bipartisan leadership and lack of global competition.
[ The U.S. government needs more top IT talent. Read 5 Habits Of Highly Effective Government IT Leaders. ]
However, now the global competition is heating up -- just ask Apple, HP, Ericsson and Boeing, and they'll tell you Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei and Airbus are tough global competitors. South Korea, China and the European Union governments are investing heavily in the growth of the tech industry. The U.S. government is investing in technology industry too, but its focus is mainly on defense, and with sequestration these investments are being reduced. I believe a more direct, consolidated, coordinated and planned approach toward technology investments is needed to keep our leadership strong.
Tech Remains the U.S.'s Future
According to TechAmerica Foundation's 2013 Cyberstats report, U.S. high-tech employment totaled 5.95 million in 2012, with average wages of $93,800 -- 98% more than the average private sector wages of $47,000. According to some additional recent data, U.S. high-tech jobs are growing at three times the rate of other private sectors, and each tech job creates more than four jobs in the wider economy, thanks to wages that are 17-27% higher than other sectors. If we want to create more of these jobs for our kids, we need a mechanism to support that future.
Needed Now: Department of Technology
We need to create a new cabinet-level Department of Technology (USDoTech) now, while we are still leading in the technology world. The goal of the department should be to drive collaborative public-private technology innovations that maximize public value through private growth.
The notion of a cabinet-level technology department is not new. James Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, established MinTech, the first Ministry of Technology, in 1964. China today has Ministry of Science and Technology; India has a Ministry of Communications and Information Technology; and South Korea has MSIP (the Ministry of Science), ICT and Future Planning to "build a creative economy for the happiness of all people."
How to Create USDoTech?
President Obama, to his credit, established the first chief information officer and chief technology officer positions in the federal government. However, neither has cabinet-level authority, and with few resources available, the impact on the growth of this important sector has been limited.
One way create a cabinet-level department is by consolidating a number of technology-centric offices spread across various federal agencies that often work in an uncoordinated and sometimes even counterproductive way. Some examples include the technology-focused sections of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and many others.
Centralizing the technology leadership functions in these departments will give government a clearer, more holistic picture of the needs, challenges, opportunities, and threats for this fast-growing sector, allowing it to more effectively craft policies, legislation, and regulations and promote appropriate public-private investment strategies to keep U.S. leadership dynamic. We don't need a humongous new department like Homeland Security – just a right-sized, efficient, tech-savvy group that will deliver results.
Congress: Technology Oversight Needs Change Too
As mentioned in my recent article in the Fast Government Report published by The IBM Center for the Business of Government, the Congressional governance of federal government investments in the technology portfolio is fragmented and is therefore not conducive to seeing the benefits of integrated approaches to technology.
Congress has 21 Senate committees, 22 House committees and many more subcommittees, which directly or indirectly have oversight over technology initiatives and investments in federal agencies. However, technology today is highly connected infrastructure, and a holistic view and investment strategy is key to future success. It is therefore essential that Congress establish a technology committee focused on maximizing transformative use of technology and effective involvement of private industry for the benefit of the country.
Next Steps: Get Involved
How do we create the "USDoTech" with this polarized Congress? Crowdsourcing, of course!
If you support the concept of a cabinet-level technology department, forward this article and talk to your friends and family today. "Like" the initiative on Facebook, and suggest the roles and responsibilities for this new department now. Call your Congressional representatives and senators and ask them to enlist Congressional Research Services (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to study the matter and work with the private sector to build a definitive bipartisan plan.
Finally, if your company has a government affairs department, ask it to lobby the federal government to support this worthy cause. Together, we can create this necessary department with no increased cost to taxpayers and keep the U.S. a leader in high-tech for years to come.