“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”
“With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”
“..I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 per cent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”
“Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 per cent of all Americans.”
In what has been called a tech-heavy State of the Union (SOTU), President Obama set bold budgetary and policy goals for an array of important tech industries. The reality is that most of this will likely not be realised due to the many innovative tech companies which will choose not to advocate on these and other good tech policy goals in Washington.
After any State of the Union address, industry typically spends their time spinning to the press and Congress why certain issues are of greater relevance than others and deserve exceptional merit. Savvy industry knows that not every SOTU proposal will be considered by the Congress and therefore they work hard to express support and lobby lawmakers that their industry merits legislation.
Look no further than the oil or gun control lobbying entities. The oil industry spent lots of money and time trying to insert themselves in the SOTU and they will likely continue to spend lots of money to define what the President’s remarks “really mean” to legislators. The gun control lobby wasn’t mentioned in the address despite the horrific Tucson shooting and the gun control lobby is making waves in the press to highlight why despite its omission it is still a big issue worthy of Congressional time.
So where does tech stand? Can tech spend the next few months lining up a clean tech energy bill, high-speed wireless implementation, and electric car funding? I have my doubts. One recent lobbying disclosure report had Yahoo, Apple and Facebook collectively spending a paltry amount on lobbying spending despite their obvious mega-status as tech giants. When compared with similarly large industries which are affected by Congress these three companies pale in comparison. At least these three have some presence. I could list dozens of major tech companies which have little to no lobbying presence in Washington – a costly endeavour.
When compared to tech’s foreign counterparts, American tech influence also has me doubting the possibility that the President’s vision could be brought to fruition. Consider the Chinese, which were recently reported as having major business and tech industry paying money to have their message heard in Washington. Other companies work diligently on favourable free trade agreements which would allow more American tech consumerism in their favour. Does the average major tech company come anywhere close to this type of activity in our capital let alone a foreign one? The President’s speech was replete with tech references which tech industry should consider a major gift. But without serious tech companies and their leadership venturing to Washington to support the President’s goals, they stand little to no chance of moving through Congress and going into effect.
Other influence makers in Washington would be far too happy for tech to go through its usual motions of spending little time or money on their advocacy needs so that others who didn’t receive the President of the United States’ favourable review can convince lawmakers that there are other more worthwhile goals.