When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the oath of workplace on Wednesday, the brand new president and vp will inherit a nation in turmoil. Their administration will likely be tasked with unifying a deeply divided nation, repairing a hobbled economic system, reining within the rampant coronavirus, mitigating the existential menace of local weather change, and serving to Americans entry jobs in a quickly altering workforce.
Despite these unprecedented challenges, tech leaders who work carefully with the federal authorities wish to 2021 with a wholesome dose of optimism.
GeekWire quizzed authorities affairs leaders at a handful of Washington state’s prime expertise corporations to get their perspective on the yr forward. We requested them concerning the political tendencies they’re monitoring, the largest coverage points the tech business faces, and the shifts underway within the workforce dynamics.
These tech coverage leaders largely see partisanship and political division as the largest obstacles on the trail ahead, however they’re hopeful that the incoming Congress and Biden administration can information the nation towards restoration.
The nitty-gritty points they’re monitoring vary from high-profile considerations like on-line content material moderation to wonky, however vital, questions of taxing the digital economic system. And every of them believes the pandemic-driven shift to distant and distributed work can have long-term penalties for tech expertise.
While knowledge privateness and antitrust regulation of the tech business will proceed to be topics of debate, a number of of the coverage leaders we spoke with imagine these points are much less prone to be prioritized given the challenges the administration faces.
Continue studying for highlights from their responses, and sustain with GeekWire’s ongoing civic protection right here.
What are the important thing legislative and coverage points that you simply’ll be watching within the first hundred days on the Biden Administration?
As CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association commerce group, Michael Schutzler is targeted on how the federal authorities will reply to fast modifications within the workforce. He known as Big Tech regulation and different headline-grabbing points a “rounding error” in comparison with the “tectonic plate movement, the earthquake underway right now” because of the shift to distant work.
“What does it mean to be a tech hub? That’s gone,” Schutzler stated. “That’s a whole definition that’s completely over and the dynamics that are at play right now are going to change forever — really rapidly — where you get your talent, how you deploy your talent, how you train your talent. All of that is just going through a massive reconstruction. I think that actually is dramatically more important than all the other public policy topics combined.”
Microsoft is conserving shut tabs on the following administration’s pandemic response, notably because it applies to fairness, the workforce, and broadband web entry.
“Even as we grapple with the continuing COVID-19 health crisis, we also need to focus on how we can work together to drive an inclusive economic recovery,” stated Fred Humphries, company vp of U.S. authorities affairs at Microsoft. “Ensuring people have access to the skills they need for the jobs that are being created and addressing the broadband gap will both be key to achieving this recovery.”
Brian Huseman, vp of public coverage for Amazon, additionally cited broadband entry as a key situation, as the corporate strikes towards the launch of Project Kuiper, the constellation of low-orbit satellites that the corporate says will shut the digital divide by increasing entry to inexpensive high-speed web.
In addition, Amazon is asking Congress to boost the federal minimal wage to $15/hour, matching its personal minimal wage for workers companywide.
“We have begun outreach to President-elect Biden’s transition team and Hill leadership, indicating our desire to help advance this legislative priority next year,” Huseman stated. “We are also working to develop partnerships with other major employers who are paying their team members at least $15 an hour to amplify our advocacy efforts, which will include continued lobbying and a national advertising campaign.”
Zillow Group, naturally, is targeted on how the Biden administration will deal with housing shortages throughout the nation.
“A lot of people are looking for a new place to move or relocating because of COVID, so the housing market by and large has been strong but clearly there are a lot of people out there who are struggling,” stated Ken Wingert, head of federal authorities relations for the Seattle-based actual property tech firm.
“One of the main things we’ll be watching and engaging with early on is efforts to help renters, especially, but also homeowners who are struggling because of the economic fallout from the pandemic.”
What are a few of the greatest tech coverage points dealing with the nation as Joe Biden takes workplace?
An excellent query for a number of of the executives is whether or not the federal authorities will choose up the mantle of on-line content material moderation, a spotlight of the earlier administration. For various causes, lawmakers on each side of the aisle have known as for the repeal or modification of Section 230, a regulation that shields web corporations from legal responsibility for content material their customers put up.
“Content moderation is probably the hottest topic right now, which is more focused on the social media side of things but it does impact Zillow,” he stated. “If individuals debate the professionals and cons of fixing Section 230, there’s much more to the controversy than simply political speech and what’s occurring proper now within the social media sphere.
Despite considerations about Section 230 from each Democrats and Republicans, coverage leaders and consultants are inclined to agree that on-line content material moderation received’t be a excessive precedence for the Biden administration compared with the pandemic and different extra urgent points.
Scott Peterson, director of presidency affairs on the tax automation firm Avalara, has his eyes on a lesser-known tech situation dealing with the federal authorities. Taxes on digital providers and internet marketing are gaining popularity all over the world as governments search to learn from the wealth generated by the tech business. In the U.S., a number of states are pursuing related taxes, which Peterson says could possibly be a headache for tech corporations to adjust to.
“It’s easy to do at a national level,” he stated. “It’s harder to do at a state level and it’s just going to be part of the challenge that the administration has as they negotiate with countries around the world that want to tax a portion of the digital advertising that’s being earned from consumers in their countries, given federal government taxes. The U.S. income tax structure is different and this has been a long-standing dilemma for folks that are in the tax treaty business.”
After 4 years of environmental deregulation and insurance policies supporting the fossil gasoline business, a number of of the executives are longing for the brand new administration to associate with tech in response to the local weather disaster.
“COVID-19 was an issue of the year; the climate crisis is the urgent issue of the decade,” stated Microsoft’s Humphries. ” Avoiding a local weather disaster will take aggressive approaches, new expertise that doesn’t exist as we speak, and progressive public coverage.”
Microsoft and Amazon have every launched separate local weather initiatives lately.
“Climate change is serious and action is needed from public and private sectors,” Amazon’s Huseman stated. “We’ve pledged to be net carbon zero by 2040 and will push for more ambitious federal climate policy while we work with government partners on climate solutions.”
WTIA’s Schutzler agreed that local weather change will “require a tremendous amount of collaboration on many different disciplines using technology.”
“Technology’s going to be a critical partner for real-world solutions that are going to work,” he stated.
If you might change one factor concerning the political course of, what would it not be and why?
The tech lobbyists interviewed for this story wish to see lawmakers prioritize legislating over notching political victories.
Avalara’s Peterson would change the method by which Congress considers new legal guidelines in order that “if a piece of legislation gets introduced, there’s a hearing.”
“People get to come in and talk about it, the proponents have to defend what they want to do,” he stated. “Today so much of the stuff that gets introduced is just done for political reasons because they know there will never be hearing on it. They just introduce it, they make a copy of it, they send it to their constituent who wanted it and it’s all good. If you had to get up in a public forum and defend something that’s completely different than the norm, you might be more inclined to be less outside the norm.”
Schutzler, of the WTIA, want to see a much less combative method from Congressional management.
“We live in a world in which both sides have very strong leadership positions that believe that winning isn’t enough,” he stated. “The other side has to lose.”
“If I could flip a switch, I would get our political leaders to believe in collaboration and building a future rather than fighting for political wins,” Schutzler added.
Zillow’s Wingert echoed considerations concerning the hyper-partisan state of federal politics.
“It’s the partisanship and the zero-sum side of things that frustrates lawmakers,” he stated. “It certainly frustrates those of us who work with them and it certainly frustrates company leaders as well, who want to see some things get done and it’s just really, really tough to move the ball right now.”
This yr, how do you count on life to alter for employees within the expertise business?
The long-term shift to distant work, sparked by the pandemic, stays a key pattern coverage leaders are watching.
“Zillow’s certainly at the forefront of really trying to think about what a distributed workforce looks like, how that works, not only from working with our headquarters and those types of logistical issues, but what it means in terms of recruitment, benefits, just work in general,” stated Wingert. “You talk about people having Zoom burnout and things like that. Really making sure that we’re able to have our employees connected because it does look like a lot of workers probably won’t have a vaccine until at least the second half of the year.”
But Peterson expects a return to in-office work someday this yr.
“I still think there’s an awful lot of people who want to work in an office,” he stated. “Notwithstanding some of the actions that tech companies have taken to deal with the pandemic, I suspect the majority of people to go back to the office once the world becomes a little safer.”
For the WTIA — which runs an apprenticeship program to coach numerous cohorts of scholars for tech jobs — serving to newly unemployed employees enter the expertise business will likely be a key situation this yr.
“We have 20 million people unemployed,” Schutzler stated. “Surely, 10% of them are willing and able and ready to be trained to take the couple of million open jobs that are within the tech sector, but our country isn’t set up to do that. Apprenticeship, which we’ve been doing, is a component of that but that’s got to become a major focus for any new administration because that’s how you’re going to solve some of the biggest economic issues that individual families are struggling with in the pandemic.”
Microsoft stays involved with making certain that these unemployed Americans have dependable web to take part within the digital economic system.
“Closing the broadband gap remains an urgent and immediate need,” Humphries stated. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how critical broadband coverage is to daily lives – from schoolwork, work, shopping, and connection with others – but too many Americans don’t have access to it and are being left behind. Funding must be available to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, services, and devices that are affordable.”
How is the turmoil in Washington D.C. impacting your day-to-day authorities affairs work, lobbying, and different advocacy?
Several coverage leaders we spoke with lamented how lobbying has modified because the outset of the pandemic. They say the shortcoming to meet up with lawmakers and workers in-person has made it rather more troublesome for tech corporations to plead their instances in Congress.
“No longer doing in-person meetings or just hanging out in the hallways or the cafeteria and running into staff, that personal connection that you build with staff and other government relations folks has kind of been lost,” stated Zillow’s Wingert. “That’s been the biggest challenge to adjust to.”
As a end result, tech corporations have change into extra prone to pool their lobbying assets, in keeping with Peterson.
“It has forced us to rely on others,” he stated. “I think it’s going to help build coalitions. It’s easier if you’ve got someone who can be on the ground somewhere, for them to act on behalf of a larger group. I expect associations to become more useful.”
What are you most optimistic about in 2021?
Despite the main challenges that the nation faces, tech leaders who work carefully with the federal authorities are optimistic that coronavirus vaccine rollout will usher an period of financial and societal therapeutic.
Previously: Broadband, automation, privateness prime tech business’s priorities for Biden — after controlling pandemic
“I think the economy is going to grow like heck,” stated Peterson, noting that many companies will emerge from the pandemic extra resilient due to the creativity it took to outlive.
“I’m very optimistic about 2021,” he added. “I think that the vaccine is going to change everything. I think that there’s enough pent-up demand that once we get to even a medium level of folks being vaccinated, that the spending spigot will be turned on.”
“I think there’s a lot of evidence out of the pandemic of 2020, and all the suffering that went along with it last year, that there’s a lot to be hopeful for, both in social and economic terms,” stated Schutzler. “We just need focus on the future that we want to build together.”
“I’m also hopeful that despite all the divisions, I think there is still a solid middle in both parties that really do want to come and get some things done,” Wingert stated. “Hopefully they’ll be able to work together on some of these bigger issues.”