Inside the Beltway, Inside the SuitCase

The “inside the beltway” world is often deemed to be a crazy echo-chamber of pundits and talking heads who just want attention or to be re-elected or to get more power, because of all the perks and luxuries and what-not. Oh, and the decisions are all made by lobbyists in back rooms and it’s all scotch and cigars and back-slapping. News flash: it’s not.

I’m lucky enough to get paid to report news on technology and public policy. It’s pretty complex stuff. Making the decisions on what to support or oppose isn’t easy for the people I cover, either.

The name of this section/column/blog space is SuitCase. It’s supposed to be a play on the word BasketCase. You know, people in DC wear suits…basket cases are crazy…basket case, suit case? ha. Ok, well you try and do better.

Let me be the first to admit it: I’m a geek on many different levels. Start with technology, move on down to the laws that regulate technology, then the laws that aren’t meant to regulate the technology but end up regulating technology anyway. I watch C-SPAN and I read tech blogs. Sometimes at the same time.

Next admission: I’m a bit of an insomniac. The two kind of go together. I can spend all night geeking out with a new VoIP system, then go into the work the next morning and pitch it, and I’m not even an IT guy. I just love this stuff. Do I need to do that interview with Qik? Nah. I could just bring out the voice recorder and have the quotes to verify before printing anyway. But I do, because I can, because I enjoy playing with new things that make my job easier.

That’s what Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas., has been doing, at least by his own admission. His job is a bit harder than mine, though. I have to write news articles that meet my editors’ standards and satisfy the subscribers, who pay the publisher, who pays my salary. On the other hand, he has to cast votes to make laws that represent the interests of a big swath of Texas. So, you’d be pretty sure he’d want to know before he does something they don’t like, right? Or, at least show those people that it’s not easy. Right?

Is anyone hearing me? These guys schedules are micro-managed, they spend 4 days a week in D.C. and go back to their districts for a few days, then get on a plane and return to DC. I guess the frequent flier miles are O.K. Oh, and exercise? They could be in a meeting or a hearing or reading a newspaper, and when a bell goes off, have 15 minutes to get to another building and push a button to vote. They might not know what they’re voting on, so they have to listen to someone else explain what’s going on and they’d better get it right, because the election is in a few months and they don’t want to dip below a 10% lead. Oh, yeah. Elections. They have to manage a campaign organization, too. Separate from their job. Two phones, two BlackBerries, two lives. Their second job is to keep their first job.

So along come some new tools, Twitter and Qik. Suddenly, talking to those thousands of people got a bit easier, and they can talk back to you, too. Because that’s a problem. See, since 2001, when some jerk sent some Anthrax to a Senator in the mail, security procedures got put in place, so it takes a month for someone’s letter to reach them.

Everyone wants their job to be easier, right?

Now what if your company had its’ employee manual written in the 1800’s, with a revision every 30 years or so. You might have a problem with some of those tools, right? Would that make you a bit sore?

I’m not going to rehash the details about the controversy surrounding Congress and social media. I’m also not going to tell you anything new, because that’s not what this is about.

If I can keep up, I’ll try and look at the news I reported and the people I reported on, and maybe with a fact or two, give you a window into why it’s not so simple, why left and right and right and wrong aren’t very obvious all the time. If I can do a really good job, maybe it will help you understand why technology policy is so hard to formulate, or why it’s so hard to get anything done in today’s environment.

You won’t see many opinions, because by trade I’m a journalist. I’m objective, or at least I try as hard as I can. What I can do for you though, is give you the “history” and maybe show why the stuff that looks a little bit crazy out there, makes perfect sense here. Think of me as your translator.

Welcome to Washington.