First-Term Congressman Discusses the Role of Education in Preparing Americans for Work

The Policymaker Profile series is a monthly article aimed at revealing to you, our members, the thinking of leading government officials on current policy issues. Each month we will introduce you to a leader whose duties have a direct bearing on the fortunes of the electronics manufacturing industry.

Featured in this month’s edition is Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA). Khanna represents California’s 17th Congressional District and is serving his first term. Rep. Khanna sits on the House Budget and Armed Services committees and is vice-chair of the Congressional Progressives Caucus.

1. As a newly-elected Congressman, what are your top legislative priorities? How will your priorities help small and medium-sized businesses in the manufacturing sector? 

I have two primary focuses for my time in Congress: to bring tech jobs to communities across the country and to clean up Washington. I firmly believe that technology-based employment will constitute many middle-class jobs in the future, and it is my responsibility as a Congressman to help the American people gain access to those opportunities. As a Representative of Silicon Valley, one of my roles is to connect the innovators from my district to leaders and businesses in every American community. My hope is that by bridging geographic divides and demonstrating how we can replicate the success of Silicon Valley everywhere, we can adapt our workforce and encourage companies to keep their operations on U.S. soil.

As for cleaning up Washington, I’m one of six members of Congress who do not accept money from PACs or special interests. We must remove special interest influence from our federal decision-making process so that we can better address the issues that matter most to the American people. When American workers are put first and we prepare them to be successful in the new global economy, American businesses will benefit.

2. You have been a champion of American manufacturing and even authored a book on the subject. How can Congress help create and keep well-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S.?

Overall, I believe any federal investment or policy initiative related to the manufacturing industry needs to directly benefit American workers. For example, the United States needs to address unequal or unfair trade deals, and have penalties for dumping products that unfairly disadvantage domestic manufacturers. 

In terms of policy, there are a couple of simple tax reforms that I think will incentivize companies to either keep their existing manufacturing jobs in the U.S., or bring back jobs they had previously outsourced. First, we can create tax credits for manufacturers that set up or expand factories in the U.S. In addition, if companies create new U.S. manufacturing jobs, they should have some tax credit. 

More than anything else, we need a strong commitment from the federal government. For example, if Congress doubled the funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), more small and medium-sized manufacturers could gain and keep their competitive edge. There are several other programs similar to the MEP that would significantly help manufacturers of all sizes. But we also need more investment from the federal government in infrastructure, technology, and vocational education. Improvements in these areas will not only increase our international standing, but create further incentives for businesses through improvements to the manufacturing process and their bottom lines.

Education is the lynchpin to American success in the future of this industry and will ensure there are plenty of viable pathways to employment for the middle class.

3. As a professor, you understand the importance of education. IPC supports workforce initiatives, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). What should governments be doing to prepare the next generation to work in these fields?

It begins in the classroom. Many coding languages function like a verbal or written language, and studies have shown that the earlier you teach children coding, the easier it is for them to become fluent. Especially with the job market becoming more and more focused on integrating new technologies, our kids will be much better off for the jobs of the future if we get can integrate basic coding programs and classes into our schools. One of my campaign proposals was to have the Department of Education distribute an annual grant to the top 10 states prioritizing STEM education. The idea is to increase competition among the states by assigning “points” for instructing students on coding, improving existing math and science courses, or increasing access to computers.

4. What motivated you to work in public service?

My grandfather was a huge inspiration for me. He was an activist in India who fought for independence in the 1940s and was jailed for four years alongside Mahatma Gandhi. Growing up, I always loved visiting my grandparents because it meant that I could hear his stories from his time in jail. I would just sit there and imagine what it must have been like to be that passionate and committed to a cause. Those conversations are what shaped my interest in human rights, current events and international relations, and eventually led me to public service.

At a Glance: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)

  • Age: 40
  • Home: Freemont, CA
  • B.A.: University of Chicago
  • Law Degree: Yale University
  • Member of the Armed Services Committee
  • Member of the Budget Committee
  • Author of Entrepreneurial Nation: Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America’s Future

5. Outside of policy and politics, what do you enjoy doing for fun?

I’m a huge basketball fan, especially the Golden State Warriors – Go Warriors! I have a great respect for the team both on and off the court. We did really well this year and I’m excited to see what next year has in store. I also enjoy watching movies and traveling.