Silicon Valley and the telecom industry are snatching up some of the top Democratic policy experts on Capitol Hill — just as Congress gears up for fights with the companies.
The brain drain has seen more than a dozen senior Democratic tech and telecom policy staffers leaving their posts this year, according to a POLITICO review of recent exits, with many taking lobbying roles at powerhouses including Facebook, Verizon, Apple, Charter Communications, the National Association of Broadcasters and the cloud company VMware. They’re leaving members’ personal offices as well as the Senate and House committees that oversee agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, along with topics like broadband, online speech and data privacy.
The most recent departures include the top tech and telecom staffer for Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who announced her new job at Apple just hours after the Minnesota Democrat lamented to POLITICO that tech companies have “literally hired so many people in this town.”
The Democratic hiring wave reflects the industry demand for veteran policy experts from the party that controls the House, Senate and White House. But their loss deprives Congress of the staffers’ specialized knowledge of how social media giants use consumer data, the spread of artificial intelligence and the implications of spending billions of dollars to expand broadband internet access.
It comes as lawmakers are debating House antitrust bills aimed at defanging Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, as well as proposals for the first comprehensive federal law on data privacy, and strategies for competing with China in technologies like 5G and regulations for reviving net neutrality for internet providers.
“There has always been a dearth of people that understand technology and its interaction with society in Congress — at the member level, at the staff level,” said former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who led efforts to regulate artificial intelligence and other tech-related issues during his time in Congress. “So the departure of anyone who has that kind of experience and expertise makes this problem even more acute.”
Hurd, who retired from Congress last year, is now a managing director at the private investment bank Allen & Co.
Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy with the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the wave of departures “doesn’t bode well for future congressional efforts to engage in a fruitful way on tech policy.”