More action, less talk from Congress needed to save tech jobs, industry group says

TechAmerica: Action needed on tech-related bills before mid-term elections

The technology trade association TechAmerica wants Congress to take actions such as renewing a tax credit for research and development and increasing research funding after an annual nationwide study by its affiliated foundation found the country lost 245,600 high-tech jobs in 2009.

The job losses represented an overall decline of four percent after four years of steady growth in high-tech employment, according to an overview of the findings released April 28 by the TechAmerica Foundation. However, technology industries still did relatively better than the overall private sector that saw a 5.2 percent decline in employment, the foundation said.

The electronic components industry lost the most jobs of manufacturing sub-sectors surveyed last year, 37,100, while space and defense systems manufacturing lost the least, 1,200, according to the findings.

Phil Bond, chairman of the TechAmerica Foundation and president and chief executive officer of the trade association, said federal policymakers should move beyond “the talking point that technology and innovation is fundamental to recovery or growth or competitiveness” and take action. “In too many ways the policy apparatus in this town talks the talk without completely walking the walk,” Bond said.

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Bond said his organization wants Congress to renew a tax credit for research and development and increase research funding for agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He said failing to renew the R&D credit during an economic crisis “amounts to real negligence.”

He said although the decades-old non-permanent R&D tax credit is “far from perfect,” it’s probably supports more than 100,000 jobs. Bond said although he hopes lawmakers will soon pass an extension for the credit, ultimately the credit needs to be enhanced and made permanent.

TechAmerica also wants enhanced broadband deployment, an announcement of regulatory definitions from the Health and Human Services Department related to health information technology, and the establishment of a dedicated technology acquisition corps at the Defense Department, Bond said.

In addition, Bond said TechAmerica favors comprehensive cybersecurity legislation focused on cooperation rather than regulation, but he said current legislative proposals still need work. Bond said TechAmerica is committed to continuing engagement with staff working on the comprehensive cybersecurity legislation proposed by Sens. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). TechAmerica said it had reservations about a version of the bill that cleared committee earlier this year.

Bond said that if it’s not possible to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation this year, Congress should to take up more specified bills that have been around for a while. “Let’s look at federal information security legislation, data breach legislation; those have been well-discussed, well-vetted, they are ripe for action if we cannot get a comprehensive bill done,” he said.

Meanwhile, the cybersecurity portion of the overall industry is doing very well this year because of increased interest from businesses and policymakers in the United States and the European Union.

TechAmerica represents almost 1,500 companies. The organization spent $378,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009 to lobby the federal government, according to a recent article from the Associated Press that cited a quarterly disclosure report.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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