Following the November elections, we predicted how tech policy issues would fare under a Biden administration and a new Congress, as well as tips for how media pros should communicate about them. The predictions held up well for Biden’s first 100 days in office. Now, more than a hundred days in, we highlight two of the most pivotal technology challenges we’re seeing across the policy landscape.
U.S. Technological Competitiveness: Advance and Dominate
Observers wondered whether President Biden would be as tough on China as the previous administration, and we predicted he would need to be, with the differences being more in style than substance. The Biden Administration and many in Congress wasted no time establishing their position on this issue, and we predict it will only become stronger: China is a major competitive threat to U.S. technological superiority, which in turn is a threat to economic and political power.
Most of the challenge is technological. China is either ahead of or even with the U.S. on artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, technologies that are critical for the U.S. to dominate. Underscoring this point, President Biden said in his recent address to Congress that the U.S. is “at an inflection point with China” and “must advance and dominate the technologies of the future.” Many in Congress agree, with the Endless Frontier Act, which would allocate $112 billion for technology research to combat competitive pressures from China, currently on the Commerce Committee’s docket and likely to pass .
Another issue that has quickly risen to national attention is the shortage of semiconductors – a field where the U.S. has steadily been losing market share, not just to China but Asia in general. Demand for semiconductors soared during the pandemic, with many purchasing devices to use at home. This, combined with the digitization of everything, caused a semiconductor shortage. It is now in the nation’s best interest for the U.S. to grow market share, which has fallen from 37% in 1990 to just 12% today. Government assistance is likely, as the U.S. cannot afford to have its market position erode further.
What This Means for Communicators: Reporters are interested in applications of AI and machine learning that address important national concerns, such as COVID. The fact that the U.S. and China are neck and neck in terms of dominance on some of these emerging technologies will be a piece of the story but not the major piece. The semiconductor issue will also continue to garner media attention, especially as solving the shortage problem will take a couple of years. Having narratives that play into the shortage or its potential solution should get traction.
Cybersecurity: Wait, Solar who?
We knew a Biden administration would focus on cybersecurity, and the end of 2020 brought even more urgency and attention to the issue. The huge story after the election, and really for the rest of this year, concerns a company hardly anybody knew before November: SolarWinds. The breach of their software and follow-on infections of government agencies and companies, including Microsoft, was a monumental cybersecurity story — and with good reason.
The stealth backdoor tactics the attackers used and the random way the attack was discovered changed the cybersecurity game in a big way. Congress held several hearings, the administration publicly blamed Russia for the attack, and President Biden is expected to issue an executive order any day now, bringing cybersecurity into the national spotlight more than ever. SolarWinds and the subsequent Microsoft Exchange hacks pointed to the vulnerability of the nation’s software supply chain – a thorny issue that’s difficult to address but one that the public and private sectors will continue to debate.
The SolarWinds EO will give a boost to issues that the cybersecurity industry has championed for a while, including information sharing, federal IT modernization and cyber breach notification practices. Adding to other legislation on cybersecurity, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said a bill on cyber threat reporting, an issue that has never managed to gain consensus, is again in the works.
Another cybersecurity issue that’s commanding national attention is ransomware – the most recent example being an attack that forced a shutdown of a major U.S. fuel pipeline. A task force on the issue recently wrapped up, releasing a Comprehensive Framework for Action, while two others from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are gearing up. Each task force is addressing a different aspect of the issue, and neither of them predicts it will come up with a universal solution. However, the criticality of the problem is becoming clear.
What This Means for Communicators: Cybersecurity media are still focused on SolarWinds and its implications, and now also the ransomware pipeline shutdown. Research and narratives picking up on both will continue to be valuable to reporters. Policy media continue to be interested in specific initiatives meant to address attacks like SolarWinds and breaches of critical infrastructure. Individual instances of ransomware, such as the Babuk ransomware that hit the D.C. Police Department recently, will also spur discussion. The upcoming SolarWinds EO will generate lots of reports from working groups and task forces, providing opportunities for expert commentary.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.