Tech Titans Gather at White House to Modernize Government

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday announced he wants to see up to $1 trillion of tax savings over the next decade by a “sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology.”  

Trump told the American Technology Advisory Council in the White House State Dining Room that “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.”

A slew of high-tech heavyweights, some of whom have criticized President Donald Trump’s policies, huddled at the White House on Monday as the administration kicked off its “technology week.”

The chief executive officers of 18 companies held meetings with White House and other Trump administration officials to generate ideas to attempt to transform and modernize government services.

“In addition to the trillion in cost we can take out, probably we can add another two trillion [dollars] on the numerator in terms of digital business by getting the public and the private sector in full cooperation under your administration,” Bill McDermott, the CEO of enterprise software company SAP, told Trump.  

Also speaking to the group, one of the world’s most successful venture capitalists, John Doerr, contended that there is also a “trillion dollars of value locked up in government databases. The Kleiner Perkins chairman told the president that “if you set the data free the entrepreneurs are going to do the rest.”

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the world’s largest online shopping retailer, recommended government, for its transformation, “use commercial technologies whenever possible” to save taxpayers’ money. He also said it was impossible to overstate that investment is needed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The CEO of cloud computing company VMware, Pat Gelsinger, echoed that, saying “we deeply believe that we need to be planting those seed corns for our children and grandchildren.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also agreed, saying increasing competitiveness could be achieved through government spending in research. And the native of India told the president the United States should maintain an “enlightened immigration policy,” noting he was the beneficiary of such a policy.   

The corporate leaders at the table with the president on Monday cumulatively represented more than $3.5 trillion in market value, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

“Today we’ve assembled a very impressive group of leaders from the private sector and are putting them to work here today to work on some of the country’s biggest challenges that will make a very meaningful difference to a lot of its citizens,” White House senior advisor Jared Kushner said as the White House kicked off the day of meetings.

Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, says the goal is to “work to modernize the government’s technology infrastructure.”

There is outside skepticism about whether the president’s goal – at least in monetary terms – can be achieved.

“I do not understand how or where that trillion-dollar number comes from,” veteran Silicon Valley engineer Leslie Miley told VOA. “There is no basis for that claim so, as an engineer, I would not believe it until I saw a breakdown.”

The sprawling federal government maintains more than 6,000 data centers, some of the systems stretching back more than a half century.

The Department of Defense is still using floppy disks in some of its computer systems, Kushner noted.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that computer coding should be a required subject in every public school and that “the U.S. should have the most modern government in the world, and today it doesn’t.”

“Tim Cook is right, we should,” Miley, who has worked at Apple, Google, Slack and Twitter, told VOA. “However, with key leadership positions in the government unfilled, it’s going to be difficult getting a strategy in place and executed.”

Monday’s White House event included 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, according to a White House official.

Other prominent administration participants included Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, Office of Management  and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and three cabinet secretaries: Steven Mnuchin of Treasury, John Kelly of Homeland Security and Wilbur Ross of Commerce.


Other participating Silicon Valley chief executives included Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (parent company of Google), Brian Krzanich of Intel, Steven Mollenkopf of Qualcomm, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe and Ginni Rometty of IBM.

Several of those attending on Monday also were at a similar meeting Trump convened last December before his presidential inauguration.

Notably absent from this second meeting was Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, who recently quit as an outside economic advisor to the president in protest of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.


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