White House pitches tech giants on civic service

The Office of American Innovation hosted some of the biggest names in U.S. tech to explore ways to inject government with tech expertise from the private sector through "tours of duty."

The White House (Photo by Sean Pavone / Shutterstock)
 

The White House hosted some of the biggest technology companies and digital shops within government at an Oct. 22 meeting to explore ways to inject government with tech expertise from the private sector through "tours of duty."

The goal of the event, according to a White House official, is to convene 150 technology stakeholders and human resources experts in the tech space to explore possible options or policies for carving out time for their employees to help government with its tech challenges.

While the head of the Office of American Innovation Jared Kushner was out of town, the represented organizations included Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Adobe, IBM, the Internet Association, Information Technology Industry Council and Business Software Alliance.

Government attendees included White House deputy chief of staff for policy coordination Chris Liddell, special assistant to the president for OAI Matt Lira, acting administrator of the U.S. Digital Service Matt Cutts and other representatives from USDS and the Technology Transformation Service.

"The country benefits when patriotic citizens with technical expertise choose to serve at the federal, state or local level," said Liddell. "Today's event brings together technology stakeholders to explore ways for more people to take a civic tour of duty."

Under the Obama administration, the USDS and 18F within TTS were stood up under this tour of duty model, offering tech talent a role in government for two- to four-year terms.

A White House official told FCW these tours of duty would include these avenues, but would also apply more broadly at the federal, state and local levels.

Some private sector attendees have already made commitments following the meeting. The Business Software Alliance — whose member companies include Adobe, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, among others — said it has made three commitments to promote civil service work and facilitate civil service leave from its members.

Craig Albright, vice-president of legislative strategy at BSA, said this relationship could mutually beneficial.

For private sector employees, "you might be able to go into government, get some experience in project management, deliver a solution, and that might give you more opportunities to do more significant project management than if they stayed in the company," he said.

As far as specifics, Albright said the tours of duty would be "more formal" rather than consulting or sharing strategies that work in the private sector, and that tours of duty could last a year or more. He also added the White House would be looking to create "strike teams" that operate out of GSA to help solve tech problems.

Overall, the government is looking to make it easier to onboard cybersecurity and IT personnel as part of an administrative overhaul of federal hiring practices. Margaret Weichert, the acting head of the Office of Personnel Management, recently announced plans to grant direct hiring authority to agencies to streamline hiring to critical tech jobs and other occupations requiring science or engineering backgrounds.

The Oct. 22 event is the just the latest in a series of Trump administration gatherings of tech companies. In June 2017, the White House met with executives of 17 high-profile tech companies to fix federal IT problems. This followed up on issues raised during a December 2016 meeting hosted by the Trump transition team. In September of this year, the Office of Management and Budget hosted a workforce summit where technology was central to the feedback sought from the private sector.

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