Since the spring of 2009, I have been an active voice on a delegation of CEOs and senior officers who visit Washington, D.C. as part of Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s semi-annual Advocacy Trip. I do so because a chief executive of a global Fortune 1000 business has a responsibility to lend his or her voice to influence policy that impacts their business. To be honest, I often leave these trips frustrated at the gap between the pace of business and the pace of government. And I’ve been vocal about that frustration in previous blogs. Sit down, this may be a shocker: I came home fairly optimistic this time.
Once again, thanks to Carl Guardino and his team, 57 public and private business leaders spent a collective 798 hours meeting with 10 leaders from the White House and 63 members of Congress and the Senate who represent 36 states – 72% of the country (a signal of the strength of the Leadership Group and Silicon Valley). We had dialogue on critical issues such as cyber-security, transportation, patent reform, immigration/green card reform and more. I left D.C. inspired by several outcomes:
The White House Administration “gets” technology. Federal CIO Steven van Roekel has wasted no time in deploying innovations such as cloud-based technology and virtualization to upgrade antiquated federal government systems and data center efficiency since taking the role 8 months ago. Likewise, with just one month on the job, Federal CTO Todd Park has embraced the role of “Technology Entrepreneur in Residence”, already driving programs that allow entrepreneurs to build services through open innovation platforms and launching a nationwide “Green Button”. These two are on fire.
Congress avoided a transportation shutdown. During our visits, Congress passed a Transportation Bill. Although the 90-day extension may be consider a “kick of the can”, it averts a shutdown of critical projects and moves the Bill into conference, leading to the eventual distribution of funds for crucial infrastructure improvements bringing jobs to Silicon Valley, California and the Nation – projects like the second phase of the extension of BART to San Jose.
The voice of the Valley is loud and clear. Recent legislative reforms require theUS Patent & Trademark Officeto establish satellite locations in three metropolitan areas across the country. It would make sense that one of these offices be in Silicon Valley – the Innovation Capital of the country where 25% of all patents are filed. After conversation with Azam Khan and members of his team, I have confidence that they are using a systematic and reasonable process to narrow 600 applications from cities vying for selection to a short list, with a decision in the coming months. I’m hopeful that Silicon Valley is one of them. But whatever the outcome, I now understand the methodology – which is more than I can say about other decisions coming out of Washington.
We have unified representation in Silicon Valley. Candidly, I may not always agree with my local representatives on the Hill. But I am in violent agreement with Senator Boxer and Representatives Eshoo, Honda, and Lofgren on several issues: that a skilled workforce is critical to our global competitiveness; that immigration and business tax reforms are necessary to enable companies to create jobs and contribute to our economy; and that education, diversity, innovation, collaboration and transparency are the foundation of our collective success.
That inspiration was shared by many of my executive colleagues, nearly half of whom were participating for the first time. As Board Chair of the Leadership Group, I encouraged them to “take it all in.” It can be a powerful experience walking the halls of the Capitol and sitting across from House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, WWII Veteran and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye to name just a few respected leaders. We are not tourists; we are engaged professionals striving to do right for our businesses, right for our country and right for our global competitiveness. By the end of the trip, we shared a common sense of hope – rather surprising given the overall political climate.
Speaking of climate, the beautiful weather in D.C. drew me outside for a run through the National Mall and beyond. After my jog I spent time at each of the war memorials and exchanged stories with other visitors – something many of us just don’t do anymore – whether we’re too busy or just too attached to our mobile devices. I met veterans from WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Listening to their stories I was humbled by their experiences and reminded of memories my own dad shared as a Marine in the Korean War. I thanked them for their service and sacrifices, but somehow that just didn’t seem to be enough.
I will likely never see those strangers again, but our brief exchanges brought home the importance of getting it right in America. We might not always agree on what should be done or how, but let’s agree that our actions today shape the America of tomorrow. We have something worth fighting for just like our veterans have long understood.
As citizens representing the private and public sectors, let’s work together and make America the land of opportunity once again; let’s be proud of the legacy we leave for the next generation.