Trump: ‘Bold thinking’ is needed to solve federal IT challenges

President Donald Trump is calling for agencies to embrace big change, bold thinking and outsider perspectives to transform government technology. The White House kicked off tech week by hosting 18 private sector technology leaders from companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google at the American Technology Council meeting on June 19.

“Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens, stronger protection from cyber attacks — which we were just discussing in the Oval Office with a little bit smaller group,” Trump said at the ATC meeting. “That’s a big problem, there’s no question about it. We’re going to be working on it and we’re going to solve the problem — and up to a trillion dollars in savings for taxpayers over the next 10 years.”

Over the course of the four-hour meeting, the members of the ATC split into 10 working sessions focusing on everything from citizen services to cloud computing to cybersecurity to contract reforms.

Jared Kushner, Chris Liddell
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, left, with the assistance of Assistant to the President Chris Liddell, right, tries to quiet the audience so he can speak at the opening session of the White House meeting with technology Chief Executive Officers to mark “technology week,.”  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Trump signed an executive order in May creating the ATC as part of his administration’s efforts to generate ideas to transform and modernize government services. The ATC and the Office of American Innovation are part of a multi-pronged approach to address challenges to get off of legacy IT systems. The Office of Management and Budget detailed in the fiscal 2018 budget request its approach to use the IT modernization fund currently working its way through Congress.

The White House is leaning on the private sector experts to help develop more specific recommendations to address many of the larger system challenges across government.

Trump pointed to the Veterans Affairs Department’s decision to move to the Defense Department’s electronic health record as one example of the administration’s plans to improve federal technology.

Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to the president, said VA Secretary David Shulkin will make another “very big” announcement on Friday.

“Our goal here is simple. 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 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 start-ups focused on government technology and be a global leader in the field making government more transparent and responsive to citizens’ needs.”

Chris Liddell, the director of strategic initiatives and assistant to the president, said, “We certainly know the problems. We have some of the ideas about what the solutions are. But we really want to engage your minds and get the best of the private sector applied to these problems.”

Liddell added that he hoped the CEOs would continue to be involved with the White House on these issues in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said the administration’s tech week is a broader effort looking at how the government can become more adaptable to new technologies to work better for its citizens.

Spicer said Shulkin will visit Walmart headquarters in Arkansas to learn about their logistical supply chain program and how its best practices can be adapted to help the VA deliver better practices and care to veterans.

“We’re also looking at ways that the federal government can act as a partner for the private sector to e courage future innovation,” Spicer said. “Throughout this week, we’ll be highlighting the opportunities for government to combine its potential for large-scale change with technological advancement, such as the ones produced by the private sector to move our economy forward and make our government work better for every American.”

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, said at the event, that agencies should think of the citizens as customers.

Cook encouraged Trump to ask his Cabinet to tell him how they are measuring success.

Several participants in the ATC meeting recognized the importance of bringing private and public sector experts together.

“Overhauling fragmented legacy infrastructures will prove challenging, but the move to a secure cloud combined with a holistic data management strategy that includes enhanced data securitization will enable a more robust and agile system that will help achieve broader security goals in the long term,” said Commvault CEO Bob Hammer in a statement.

Pat Gelsinger, VMware CEO, said in a statement technology such as cloud and virtualization are part of the solution set to improve the day-to-day operations of the government.

“These are critical benefits as technology and automation are poised to heavily influence and shape society in the coming decades,” Gelsinger said. “We don’t often talk about how investing in technology infrastructure benefits individual American citizens working their way through school or building new skills to change careers, but it’s top of mind for us as we share our expertise with the council, as we do with our many public sector customers across the country.”