White House tasks tech CEOs with fixing federal IT

The new American Technology Council convened high-ranking tech executives at the White House to surface solutions that can improve federal IT and digital services.

Jared Kushner via video feed delivers remarks after White House American Technology Council meeting
 

Jared Kushner addresses reporters after a White House meeting of the American Technology Council.

The Trump administration's American Technology Council held its first meeting with high-ranking executives from tech companies with the stated goal of identifying solutions for fixing federal IT and digital services.

Kicking off the White House's series of events dubbed "Technology Week," the American Technology Council, chaired by President Donald Trump and headed by former Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell, convened 17 high-profile tech executives in the West Wing on June 19.

The purpose of the council, which includes 18 leadership officials from various agencies, is to "transform and modernize" federal IT and provide the president with tech policy advice, according to the executive order establishing the council.

Trump himself sat in on some of the sessions and offered remarks at the end of the day.

"We're embracing big change, bold thinking, and outsider perspectives to transform government and make it the way it should be, and at far less cost," Trump said, saying that "a sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens, stronger protection from cyberattacks," and savings of as much as a trillion dollars in taxpayer funds over a decade.

According to a White House statement, the meeting covered "10 working sessions over four hours focused on citizen services, cloud computing, analytics, cybersecurity, big data, purchasing and contract reform, talent recruitment and retraining, government and private sector partnerships, H1-B visas and future trends."

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kushner stressed the importance of data center consolidation, cloud migration and modernizing legacy systems with the goal of better services and lower expenses. The Trump budget seeks more than $95 billion for IT in fiscal year 2018.

"Our goal here is simple," he said in his first public remarks since joining his father-in-law's administration. "We are here to improve the day-to-day lives of the average citizen. That's a core promise, and we are keeping it."

Kushner also lamented the "decades-old" IT systems, floppy disks still used by the Pentagon, as well as outdated federal regulations hampering innovation.

"We have set ambitious goals and empowered interagency teams to tackle our objectives," he said. "Together, we will unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before. We will foster a new set of startups focused on gov-tech and be the global leader in the field making government more transparent and responsive to citizens' needs."

Kushner said he was warned before joining government "that the bureaucracy would resist any change that we tried to implement."

"So far, I have found exactly the opposite," he said.

Kushner praised Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin for his decision to ditch the Vista electronic health records system for a commercial provider and teased "many more announcements that will be coming soon, including a very big one that will be coming this Friday."

President Trump, Liddell, Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Assistant to the President for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives Reed Cordish all attended the meeting.

Also in attendance were Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives Dina Powell, Senior Advisor to the President for Policy Stephen Miller, National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster and Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert.

From industry, PayPal founder and long-time Trump supporter Peter Thiel was in attendance, along with CEOs from Accenture, Adobe, VMware, OpenGov, IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, among others.

During the 2016 campaign, many Silicon Valley luminaries endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and have publicly clashed with Trump on certain fronts, including encryption, immigration and climate change.

However, the two groups are intertwined in accomplishing some of Trump's key goals, including a technology revamp across the government that leans on the private sector.

In December, while Trump was still president-elect, Thiel, then a member of the transition team, played a role in setting up the December "Tech Summit." At that meeting, Trump convened leaders from Google, IBM, Apple, Intel, Facebook, Amazon and other firms at Trump Tower.

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