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Surveillance & Acquisition Reforms: A Two-Pronged Response to a Looming Global Barrier to Innovation

President Barack Obama today convened a meeting with leaders of the technology sector to talk about two critical challenges confronting the technology industry:  1) the ability of our industry to innovate and sell products globally in the shadow of revelations on U.S. surveillance practices; and 2) the ability of government to better acquire and utilize state-of-the-art technology amidst the controversy surrounding healthcare.gov.

On the surface, surveillance practices and healthcare.gov couldn’t be more different, but for the technology industry, they present challenges that are fundamentally similar in one key respect:  They threaten to create barriers to innovation and growth for our industry as it seeks to sell globally and to governments.  We applaud the Obama Administration for seeing the nexus of these two topics and to enable our industry to make the case for both surveillance and acquisition reform.

With respect to the NSA revelations, it’s no secret they threaten the innovative vitality of the global digital economy.  Many U.S. technology companies are experiencing troubling repercussions in the global marketplace that could become even more severe.  Major trading partners such as Brazil and the European Union are considering strict measures that would begin to unravel the global flow of innovation and commerce.

Surveillance reform is an essential part of restoring the public trust both in both the U.S. government and the technology community.  Congress and the Administration need to work together to make such reform a priority in 2014.  Greater transparency and oversight in connection with the NSA’s surveillance programs are an important first step.  Further reforms to U.S. surveillance will likely be warranted here in the United States.

But the conversation isn’t just among policy leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, but in all corners of the globe.  Policy engagement among governments of the world is critical because of one simple reality: surveillance activities take place worldwide.  Citizens of the world want to trust their governments, and they want to trust the technologies they use. Our economy and our prosperity depends on it. 

Similarly, governments want to use our technology, particularly to provide essential services to their citizens.  Healthcare.gov has obviously raised a number of red flags and issues, many of them misleading, about the effectiveness of technology.  Policymakers need to take a step back and consider how acquisition reform can best address these issues.

Even before healthcare.gov hit the headlines, many around Washington have been engaged on acquisition reform as a key solution to a decades’ long government challenge to leverage the power and efficiency of technology.  Healthcare.gov reflects only the symptoms of the broader systemic failures of federal acquisition.  Any viable solution must include as a starting point a set of holistic assessments of and recommendations on the acquisition practices and requirements of the U.S. federal government.

At a minimum, we believe that any assessment and solution for reform at a minimum must:

  • Provide increased access to commercial products and services by restoring the commercial item preference in government acquisition;
  • Focus on Improving the Acquisition Workforce;  
  • Create an effective oversight environment;
  • Better manage IT Investments; 
  • Provide more flexibility to enable technology investment options; and 
  • Align acquisition practices with our global trade interests. 

The technology industry is ready for acquisition reform, and a number of policymakers in both the House and Senate have proposed a number of important reforms, including several that are in line with the above recommendations.  Bipartisan agreement on an acquisition reform package in 2014 should be a top priority in Congress.  Quick legislative fixes will not work. The taxpayers deserve better.  That is why we encourage policymakers to focus on a holistic approach for acquisition reform, not piece-meal efforts that don’t improve the system.  That approach ensures that the story of healthcare.gov is an anecdote of a problem ultimately solved by Congress.

One of the reasons why meetings like the one held today in the White House is so important is because ours is a dynamic industry that repeatedly confronts barriers to innovation and growth.  These barriers are often driven by policies that, whether intended or not, work against the broader interests not just of our industry but also of the global economy.  Innovation knows no national boundaries, and when given the chance to have global reach, the benefits of innovation are felt globally. 

Surveillance reform and acquisition reform each will solve a specific set of distinct and unique problems, but together, they will break down barriers to innovation and enable global commerce to thrive and governments to improve their citizens’ quality of life. 

Public Policy Tags: Surveillance Reform, Data & Privacy