It’s that time again. The carnival side show known as the congressional budget process is playing out downtown, and greater Washington is reminded how dangerous it is being a company town when the mill owner is moody.
Yes, a government shutdown would affect our entire economy, as a portion of our workforce would be left without paychecks for period of time. However, the possibility of a reimposition of sequestration limits on federal spending is an ongoing threat. For two years, a short-term congressional agreement allowed federal expenditures to rise higher than sequestration limits. Many suggest our region has adjusted to the lower spending totals, but that is just wrong.
It’s time for members of greater Washington’s business community to wake up. Let’s recognize that our federal government’s need to do more with less is a permanent condition. Efforts such as GSA’s 18F technology incubator, the Pentagon’s office in Silicon Valley and other initiatives reflect a growing desire for our federal government to acquire off-the-shelf products and commercially proven solutions. Looking at our fastest growing local companies, we’re still highly concentrated in technology services. This has to change.
We need to use our proximity to the federal government more strategically. Rather than being a passive partner with government as a recipient of federal largess, our region must take advantage of its locale to drive new industries and technological changes. How do we do that? Through an intelligent interaction of policy, regulation and entrepreneurship. Let entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley ignore government and try to disrupt around it. We should acknowledge and lead the development of industries that work with it.
There are several examples of opportunity. Here are just three:
Personalized medicine. A methodology of care focusing on a patient’s genomic make up, tailored treatments, preventive care and lifestyle choices. Personalized medical technology has the potential to dramatically improve healthcare, lengthen lifespans and reduce overall healthcare expenditures. In the current regulatory environment it also raises several issues including how to handle patient information, allocate Medicare reimbursement, address insurability concerns relating to a patient’s genetic makeup and protect a patient’s privacy.
Virtual reality. The ability for people to immerse themselves in a virtual world will rapidly morph into a mode of communication plunging our citizens in a web of connection eclipsing other media. Innovators can rise to the challenges virtual reality will raise, including how to allocate bandwidth, where to build it, how to define and differentiate “reality” from real life and how to address infrastructure such as roads, rail and aviation.
Cybersecurity. The line between public and private spheres continues to blur. A potential treaty with China demonstrates a recognition of cyber weapons as potential weapons of mass destruction. However, cyber threats remain a large and constant economic menace in our private sector. I see a need for expertise to resolve problems such as how to coordinate and react to threats, share information, regulate or control use of artificial intelligence, and how to manage to protect privacy.
In these instances, and a variety of others, our region is uniquely positioned to lead the discussion and expansion of industries that will drive 21st century jobs and wealth creation. As a matter of fact, our failure to resolve these distinct issues would prevent emerging industries from taking root and growing.
Regulation, policy and entrepreneurship need to overlap to make intelligent decisions. This is our time to shine — our region’s big chance. Instead of reacting to external political forces, let’s jump up and take the lead.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and chairman of Amplifier Ventures, a venture capital fund focusing on national security technology innovation. He is co-host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program.