The transition of the IANA contract oversight is, of course, the topic du jour at ICANN 50 in London. From the sessions to the hallway banter, it's the hottest topic I can recall in ICANN's history. It's an inherently over-the-top political topic, merging partisan politics in Washington with Internet governance.
On numerous occasions in Singapore, Larry Strickling raised the domestic politicking on the part of the Republican Party regarding the IANA oversight transition, cautioning us of the discourse fuelled by opportunism. He was right. We now have two Republican-backed amendments that have passed the House of Representatives that are intended to delay, if not block, the transition of the IANA contract oversight.
Phillip Corwin has published some excellent posts on CircleID on the topic, detailing the amendments and how they can impact our process. Are the amendments simply political posturing? Or do they represent the true feelings of the Republican Party? If they do, there is a risk as we are heading into mid-term elections this Fall.
The Republicans have the opportunity to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, effectively cutting President Obama off at the knees. Regardless, it's good politics on the part of the Republicans. We've all seen the headlines – Obama is giving the Internet over to either communists or terrorist or some combination of the two.
The IANA transfer has basically allowed the Republicans to stick a political fork in Obama's eye, and they are all too happy to do as much damage as they can in the process. No big deal, right? After all, both Larry Strickling and Fadi Chehade have characterized the September 2015 date as a goal and not a deadline. It's more important that we do it right, they say, than to do it quickly.
It is possible to extend the contract, if necessary, to make sure the outcome will meet all of NTIA's criteria and to encompass the reviews necessary to alleviate the concerns of the Republicans. While I agree with the sentiment (of course it needs to be done right), I'm not convinced it is helpful to characterize the date in such a manner. Though I'm not hearing much in London about the amendments, I think they are something we ignore at our own peril.
Geographic proximity and personal interest have made me an observer of American politics, and I can tell you I can see a few things that may affect our process. First over the next year the Democrats in Washington may effectively be frozen. If the Republicans take over both houses, Obama will be a lame duck president of the highest order, making it incredibly difficult to push the IANA transition through in political ecosystem. Second, history shows us that key staff exits Capitol Hill in the final year of a president's term, knowing that the next regime will bring in their own staff. (To be perfectly clear, this is a general political observation – I have no personal insight whatsoever into the future of any senior officials in the U.S.)
This could very well mean that the architects and supporters who are in positions of influence could likely be long gone before the end of Obama's presidency in 2016, leaving the IANA transition without a champion in any influential positions. The upshot of this is clear in my thinking – if the Democrats are stripped of power, the likelihood of seeing the IANA oversight transition become a reality if we miss the September 2015 date is significantly reduced. And, without champions in influential positions on the Hill, it's far less likely that the process will be taken up under a new regime in 2016. Who would want to reinvigorate a failed process and all of the political risks that go with it?
Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian prime minister, once said “The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” We should heed his advice. In part, we are playing a political game with the IANA contract, and the stakes are high. Let's consider the September 2015 date as a deadline. We now have external pressures, such as the Republican's delay tactics, to deal with. As the global community who are committed to seeing the Internet succeed (and the transition of the IANA contract and the USG oversight role is something most of us agree is a big step in the right direction), let's work together to ensure we meet that deadline.