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For attendees of the recent CompTIA DC Fly-In, the final afternoon of the two-day event was spent in a virtual grand-finale session of “tech channel meets public policy.” Each participant got the opportunity to engage with their own state’s congressional leaders and staff members, taking to “the Hill” to discuss pending legislation and programs that could have a major impact on their businesses, as well as those of their customers.
The CompTIA DC Fly-In is one of the hardest events to describe to those who haven’t experienced it themselves. While the agenda includes presentations from some of Congress’ most IT-knowledgeable speakers, as well as officials from tech-related agencies, the final afternoon is spent on Capitol Hill.
Attendees are divided into state groups during the event registration process, and the CompTIA Public Policy team develops the meeting schedule for each delegation. They spend the afternoon of day two with their state’s Representatives, Senators and respective staff members, starting with discussions focusing on a single bill that is of great importance to the IT industry.
I encountered several attendees who were making their third (and a couple on their fourth) visit to the DC Fly-In, finding the trip to be a worthwhile investment of their time and energy. The information they've obtained and the connections they've made are invaluable, and their appeals to congressional leaders seem to be making a real difference. At each event, they received timely updates on legislation that they (and their clients) care about, and got a real opportunity to engage and build consensus with their Senators and Representatives. There is definitely strength in numbers, and the general opinion from attendees is that with continued discussions on crucial topics and the support of their industry association, they are truly making a difference.
This year’s emphasis was on pending reforms to the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986), which currently allows law enforcement and government agencies to access information stored in the cloud and on devices (PCs, tablets, smartphones) with an easily obtainable subpoena. With the growth of virtual and mobile technologies, and uneven application of the rules due to various court rulings, these updates are intended to standardize the process for businesses and their IT providers, requiring a warrant for accessing electronic files and information. For more details on ECPA reform, check out the Day One coverage of the DC Fly-In.
With the bill expected to move forward in March, each delegation was encouraged to lead off congressional discussions with that specific topic. ECPA reform could be one of the few pieces of legislation to get approved during this shortened election year, meaning it will likely have the most positive impact on channel firms in 2016 (thus the reason for stressing its passage). Dividing and Conquering the Halls of Congress In summary, the afternoon was a whirlwind. I shadowed the New York delegation as they collectively completed ten appointments. Based on time and geographic restraints, the group divided in two for part of the afternoon in order to get in front of as many staff members and congressional representatives as possible. It's an easy city to walk around, but getting from the Senate offices on one side of the Capitol Building to the opposite side to meet with House members takes at least 15-20 minutes (and that's if you're moving at a quick pace). When you add in time for security screening (in each building) and travel through massive buildings, you really have to hustle.
Our delegation met with legislators and staff members from the following offices: United States Senate
United States House of Representatives
The good news is the lawmakers and staff members were flexible and supportive, and quite versed on the issues we came to speak about, including ECPA, workforce development and other tech-related initiatives. The people we spoke with shared their concerns and sought out feedback on legislation and programs that affect IT businesses. In each appointment we were able to share information on CompTIA and provide industry research to support our discussions, and offered them access to a vast library of materials related to IT channel interests.
At the end of the day, I am confident the NY delegation did 'move the needle' on Capitol Hill. Will they vote the way most in the IT community would want them to? Only time will tell, but I do know that a number of Congressional leaders now have a much better understanding of the IT industry’s priorities than they did before our visit.
Some might say that’s a naive assumption, based more on feeling than fact. To those skeptics I present a challenge: Sign up for next year’s CompTIA DC Fly-In and take part in all the sessions and meetings. You're sure to learn a lot about the legislative processes, and more about the people involved than you ever knew before. And if it goes as well as this year, you’ll help move the needle forward for the channel and the IT industry.