Trump seeks tech's help for government IT overhaul

Trump seeks tech's help for government IT overhaul
© Greg Nash

President Trump met with the CEOs of major technology companies on Monday, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Tim Cook, asking them to help carry out a "sweeping transformation" of the federal government's information technology and cybersecurity.

The meeting was the first of the American Technology Council, a group of tech CEOs whose goal is modernizing the government's “technology infrastructure.” The meeting marked the beginning of the White House’s “technology week,” aimed at pushing Trump's policies in that area.

“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 cyberattacks, which we were just discussing in the Oval Office with a little bit smaller group,” Trump said at the start of the meeting.

Tech executives in attendance also lobbied the president on high-skill immigration reform, Microsoft CEO Brad Smith tweeted following the meeting.


"I think there’s a general belief [among those in the meeting] that this can be resolved in an effective way," said VMware CEO Patrick Gelsinger, who was among the CEOs in attendance. "There was strong messaging from the president in this regard that he gets it," he continued, noting that the president wants to see this "get resolved."

Gelsinger said that they also spoke about emerging technologies like cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Among the other attendees at the event were Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Palantir CEO Alex Karp. They joined Bezos and Cook and other leaders earlier in the day for a series of working groups led by the president's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Kushner is personally leading the effort to bring the government's IT into the 21st century.

"Together we will unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before,” said Kushner earlier Monday. “We will foster a new set of startups focused on gov-tech and be a global leader in the field, making government more transparent and responsive to citizens' needs."

The White House used the day to tout its efforts so far.

During the daily press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the White House’s recent decision to scrap an Office of Management and Budget requirement that forced businesses to report their plans for handling the Y2K bug. Those reports cost the U.S. 1,200 man hours a year for an issue that has been resolved for almost two decades.

The meeting at the White House saw Trump sit down with some of the biggest names from an industry that has frequently clashed with him on some of his key policies.

Noticeably absent from White House was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A Facebook spokesman told The Hill that the company was not at the summit due to a scheduling conflict, though it was invited to attend.

Other individuals and groups invited to events at tech week have also declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts, BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac noted on Twitter. 

Trump has been at odds with some of the executives and companies represented at the meeting, which Gelsinger said Trump showed "recognition of" at points during the meeting.

In February of last year, he called for a boycott on Apple products after the company declined to give the FBI a backdoor into one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooter’s encrypted iPhone.

His call for a travel ban on foreign nationals from six primarily Muslim countries and decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement both drew sharp criticism from Silicon Valley, including from Microsoft and Google, which had representatives at the White House event.

Prior to the meeting, the administration sought to downplay tensions between Silicon Valley and the White House.

“I think it's pretty telling that the president brings these kind of people together,” Spicer said, after being questioned about Alphabet Executive Eric Schmidt’s support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE during the campaign.

“We will work with individuals, regardless of what their past political beliefs are, to further the president's agenda and to bring ideas to the table,” Spicer added.

But many noted that the tech industry has a stake in working with the Trump administration. Companies like Palantir, IBM and Amazon have important contracts with the federal government.

Leaders from the tech companies will continue to meet and discuss topics for the White House tech week, including emerging technology such as drones. On Friday, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin is slated to announce new technology reforms at the VA.

“Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution,” Trump said on Monday. “We’re going to change that with the help of great American businesses like the people assembled.”

— This story was updated at 8:26 p.m. Harper Neidig contributed.