IEEE-USA’s 2011 Legislative Agenda reflects our policy priorities in Washington, DC and the organization’s perspective on public policy debates. Our 2011 priorities reflect last year’s legislative victories, as well as the unique political opportunities and challenges confronting IEEE members in the United States this year. Our focus areas include innovation and competiveness; energy; Internet, communication and other networks; immigration; intellectual property; engineering workforce; e-health; and critical infrastructure protection.
Focusing on investments in and the development of new technologies, IEEE-USA encourages Congress to adopt policies that make the American economy more competitive. Specific policy recommendations include investments in federal research and development, stronger K-12 math and science programs, and incentives to keep advanced research from moving offshore.
Much of IEEE-USA’s work in this area focuses on the federal budget, especially the part that deals with federal research, including the national labs, and federal support for academic and private research. In light of Congress’ focus on reducing the deficit, IEEE-USA efforts in 2011 will likely focus on reminding Congress of the important role that these programs play in our economy and trying to maintain budget gains won in previous years.
IEEE-USA’s efforts in this area focus on promoting energy efficiency in everything from buildings to appliances, alternative energy (including nuclear energy), the electrification of our transportation system, and strengthening our nation’s electric transmissions systems.
There is solid support in Congress for many of the policies supported by IEEE-USA, including alternative energy and energy efficiency technologies. Several controversial proposals that held up energy legislation last year are likely off the table in 2011, opening up a window for smaller, more focused energy legislation this year.
In addition to promoting specific pieces of legislation, IEEE members play a unique role in shaping the energy debate by providing technical advice to Congress through briefings, policy letters and private meetings with individual legislators. These contributions rarely make headlines, but are a vital source of technical information for many members of Congress.
IEEE-USA supports the spread of affordable, fast broadband nationwide. Broadband has become a vital engine for economic growth in any modern economy. President Obama has made universal broadband a priority of his administration, and there is bipartisan support in Congress for his goals. Budget constraints, however, may make it difficult to pass major technology investments even with this support. In addition to supporting specific bills, IEEE-USA will be helping Congress understand broadband technology, its promise and limits. Further, we will be working to ensure that all networks are open and secure for all users.
For almost a decade, IEEE-USA has supported making it easier for skilled workers to enter the United States on green cards, while at the same time making it harder for companies to use short-term work visa to hire non-American workers. This policy of “green cards, not guest workers” continues to shape IEEE-USA’s efforts on immigration policy. Specific policy proposals supported by IEEE-USA include providing green cards for graduate students in the United States, removing the country cap from the EB visa program and installing new protections for American and foreign workers using the H-1B visa. IEEE-USA also supports efforts to help international students and short-term visitors to the U.S. obtain visas.
For almost five years, the debate over illegal immigration has prevented any meaningful action on immigration reform. However, there are signs that this year’s Congress will be more willing to pass a narrow high-skill immigration bill, giving IEEE-USA an opportunity to move its bipartisan agenda.
Developing, producing, explaining or using technology is at the heart of virtually every IEEE member’s job. And a key ingredient in any innovative economy is a legal structure that protects the rights of inventors. IEEE-USA works to strengthen America’s patent system to ensure that there are adequate incentives for people who wish to invent the next great thing in technology.
Congress has been working on a major patent reform bill for five years, and appears to be intent on passing it this year. IEEE-USA has serious concerns about the legislation, believing that the bill would disadvantage small and independent inventors while empowering large corporations. Our efforts this year will focus on educating Congress about the impact this bill will have on smaller inventors, and about the innovative process in general.
Being an engineer is about more than just technology. IEEE-USA supports many initiatives designed to improve the careers of IEEE members, including expanding continuing education programs, improving healthcare and protecting pensions.
Many of these programs are especially important in light of the economic situation facing our country. However, budget constraints will make efforts to expand existing programs or create new ones difficult. There may be more opportunities to make existing programs more effective, without necessarily spending more money.
The health care sector has been unusually resistant to adopting information technology. IEEE-USA works with the government and relevant industries to promote technology including electronic medical records and a National Health Information Network, as well as increasing the interoperability and security of the health care information technology system.
The public debate over health care has been and will continue to be dominated by the health care reform law passed last year. However, there is considerable work being done behind the scenes to enact other reforms, including those that involve the use of technology. Many of these reforms involve regulations, not just legislation.
Our nation’s infrastructure includes more than bridges and roads. The power grid, and computer and communications networks are equally important in a modern economy. IEEE-USA helps educate legislators about the dangers to these systems, and recommend ways to reduce their vulnerabilities.
Congress has shown considerable interest in cybersecurity in past years, as is developing an increasing awareness of the threats posed by exposed computer and power networks, although it is not yet clear how Congress wants to ask on their concerns.
Committees of IEEE volunteers draft IEEE-USA’s public policy priorities and IEEE-USA’s Board of Directors approves them each year. IEEE members interested in becoming involved with the development of the priorities, or working towards their implementation, should contact IEEE-USA.
Russell T. Harrison is IEEE-USA’s Senior Legislative Representative for Grassroots Affairs.