White House

The topics Obama plans to hit -- and avoid -- at SXSW

White House photo.

President Barack Obama plans to reach out to techies during a keynote conversation at the South by Southwest festival this month.

When President Barack Obama makes history as the first sitting president to appear at the South by Southwest music, film and technology conferences, he'll likely be talking up public service but he doesn't plan to focus on federal hiring issues or the ongoing encryption debate.

During a March 10 conference call with reporters, White House Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman offered a sparse preview of the president's appearance, which is scheduled for March 11.

"We view it as a key opportunity to engage a young, tech-savvy audience in a conversation about civic engagement in the 21st century and how we can use technology to tackle the toughest challenges we face as a government and also as a country," Goldman said.

The presentation will take the form of a keynote conversation moderated by Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

At SXSW, the president does not plan to address the ongoing legal battle between Apple and the FBI over encryption, Goldman said.

Although the president will reach out to techies and ask them to help the government, Goldman said the focus will be on tackling short-term projects creatively, not on hiring people into federal jobs.

He said recruiting for the government's "technical special ops teams," such as the U.S. Digital Service, would remain important, but it's not a panacea.

"We're not just going to be talking about how folks need to come and join government or move to Washington or become a federal employee," Goldman said. "There are all kinds of examples of how people can do this work from the private sector as well."

"The Opportunity Project is a perfect example of that," U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith added. The initiative was launched earlier this week with a release of government data by the Census Bureau that included a call to action to the private sector: Help the government get its data into the hands of the people in a usable way.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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