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Hoyer, tech leaders talk jobs, government technology in Annapolis

Inside the Arundel Center in Annapolis, Rep. Steny Hoyer and some of the state's leaders in technology work shopped the Democrat's jobs and technology modernization plan much like they would an idea to grow their own businesses.

Terms like "incubators" and "maker spaces" were touted as the incumbent congressman looked to both sell and refine his 'Make It In America' economic platform with members of the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council.

"We have gone from a time when America held a monopoly, essentially, on economic development," Hoyer said, citing 1957, the year he graduated from high school.

"Nobody thought that China was going to take our jobs. Or that Europe was going to take our jobs," he said. "That is not the case today. It is a very competitive global economy and we have seen a lot of the low-end value, relatively low-skilled jobs migrate overseas."

For over five years, Hoyer has pushed packages of bills and legislative initiatives in Congress to boost employment opportunities under the "Make It In America" moniker. He's running for his 18th full term in Congress against Republican challenger Mark Arness and Libertariancandidate Jason Summers.

The plan largely focused on blue-collar jobs and found some success in Congress with 17 bills being passed during that time.

In June, the House Whip make a second push with the plan, introducing 82 bills that broaden its scope to include more non-traditional sectors and redefine "manufacturing" to include more jobs that are closer to Silicon Valley than they are Detroit.

"If we are going to maintain our standard of living and have jobs for those in our country, it will be because, A., we train them to do the jobs of the 21st century, which are going to be high-tech jobs," he said Tuesday.

Tuesday's talk focused mainly on how the government can effectively modernize its own technological infrastructure. Some federal agencies have come under fire for their use of outdated technology, notably the Department of Veterans Affairs' computer systems.

The Information Technology Modernization Act, introduced by Hoyer, passed last month and created a $3 billion fund that will look to help modernize various government systems by focusing on bite-sized chunks.

Hoyer pitched the revolving fund as one that can will focus on smaller, individual systems rather than broad agency-wide upgrades.

Those from the tech industry had their fair share of stories as to their struggles with government contract work and innovation in that space.

"My biggest concern is ... how do you get (rid of) the obstacles?" said Tracy Hoover, who worked for the National Security Agency for 30 years.

He told the story of how he had created a system for pinpointing potential enemies and terrorists that he said ultimately got shot down by bureaucratic red tape in Washington.

"Big contractors were so scared of their $2 billion program looking bad, that they went to Congress and they had Congress call my director and tell him to stand me down," Hoover said.

"It's not technology that you got to worry about. It's social engineering. You've got the get the people out of the way to get this done," he added.

Others pointed to how government oversight on projects can stymie larger innovations because there is a larger pressure to succeed quickly rather than have missteps.

Hoyer admitted the government has a "risk-averse" culture, mainly tied to the fact that public funding faces larger scrutiny and that legislators who advocate for faulty projects face backlash on Capitol Hill.

"That hobbles us," he said. "It's very difficult to overcome."