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How tech can work with governments in the age of pandemic

Venture capitalist Bradley Tusk explains how tech companies should collaborate with politicians to survive in uncertain times.

Bradley Tusk

For companies that have a new technology that could help deal with coronavirus, this is a very good time to push for regulatory reform, writes venture capitalist Bradley Tusk.

Photo: Courtesy of Bradley Tusk

The world just changed, perhaps inexorably. We've never lived in a moment quite like this, and when it comes to government and politics, the normal rules of engagement just went out the window.

Whether you're a startup, a Fortune 50 company, a midsize enterprise or anyone else that doesn't operate in a vacuum, navigating your way through politics right now isn't going to be easy. No one knows what's coming next, but there are some rules, best practices and opportunities at hand to keep in mind as you work your way through these very uncertain times.

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Federal government

Assuming that Washington will suddenly put aside all of its differences and come together in a time of crisis is probably naïve. The Senate should pass the latest coronavirus relief package this week, and more aid is on the way. But don't expect that cooperation will extend to any issues beyond immediate triage of the pandemic.

Politicians who have an issue pending in Congress should do everything they can to slip it into coronavirus-related legislation. If they can make the case that their idea helps specifically address the crisis (and, even more important, will make the legislators voting for it look good), they have a shot. Otherwise, passing a bill will take a long, long time, likely until either Joe Biden is inaugurated or Trump begins his second term early next year.

State government

Most states are in the middle of their legislative sessions. Typically, state legislatures focus on two things: negotiating that year's state budget and considering policy proposals on dozens of different topics. Given the economic impact of the virus, local and state budgets will take major hits.

At the same time, countless local businesses will need tax relief, grants, credits and any other help they can get. That means:

  • A lot of policy issues slated to be dealt with this year will be punted to next year. For politicians who are playing defense and trying to prevent a bill from passing, this should work to their advantage; that's potentially good news for all of the sharing-economy companies hoping to avoid worker classification reform. Are you a politician trying to create something new? Find a way to make it coronavirus-related. Take electric scooters, for example. Their legalization and deployment has stalled in New York. But what if the buses and subways shut down? That may be a different story. This is the time to revisit where you stand and get creative about why this time is different.
  • Some ideas that can generate revenue will now move a lot faster than normal. Legislators will need to plug gaping budget holes left and right. Coming up with rosy projections for new revenue from legalizing recreational cannabis or mobile sports betting or cryptocurrency fees is exactly what lawmakers are looking for right now. If you have a revenue-generating idea, give it to them. The chances of it happening are pretty good.
  • If you have a new technology that helps address the virus itself, this is a very good time to push for regulatory reform. Digital health can spare an incredibly overtaxed medical system — but only if state regulations allow it to operate efficiently. So for example, Maryland recently passed legislation expanding the telemedicine technologies available to providers. Federal regulations banning Medicare recipients to receive care at home through telehealth should be revoked. If you're a drone company, imagine what delivery drones could mean for a broken supply chain. If you're an autonomous vehicle startup, people would love to get from point A to point B without risking infection from the driver. The opportunities exist. Take advantage of them.

Municipal and county government

Cities across the country are working on their FY2021 budgets. They're all now in crisis and they all need money.

  • If legalizing your idea, product or service means new tax revenue, now's your time. Make sure everyone working on the budget knows you have a solution. Make implementing it as clean and easy as possible, and you just might get what you need.
  • If you have new websites, datasets, digital learning platforms or any useful tools to help cities and counties directly confront the crisis, now's your time. Get in front of local decision-makers, aggressively. Use local media to gain awareness. Push the idea on social. Someone will notice.
  • This is also a time when normal procurement rules can be suspended. Processes that normally take two years can get done in two months.

Pandemics aren't good for anyone. In fact, the more we learn, the more depressing it gets. But they do dictate new modes of thinking and behavior and those new modes offer opportunity. Given the hit your business is probably already taking right now, making the most of those opportunities could go a long way.

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