Big names descend on White House for technology summit
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner welcomed executives from many of the world’s largest technology companies to a meeting at the White House, saying he hoped they would help the administration “unleash the creativity of the private sector” on government challenges.
The event, scheduled to last four hours Monday, brought to the White House top executives from an industry whose leaders haven’t shied away from publicly criticizing Trump. Among those attending included Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who castigated Trump for his travel ban and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty. Alphabet Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who also attended, warned employees after the travel ban announcement that the Trump administration is going to do “evil things,” according to a transcript BuzzFeed obtained.
Yet many of the leading lights in the industry turned out for the first major meeting of the American Technology Council, which Trump commissioned in May and which is being shepherded by Kushner. The meeting kicks off a week of administration events themed on technology.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said technology executives came to “help us make a more efficient, effective government. Spicer added that it was “pretty telling,” despite differences many of the CEOs have with Trump, that the administration was able to bring them together “to further the president’s agenda and to bring ideas to the table.”
The agenda features working sessions on issues including cybersecurity, big data, fraud detection, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, according to a White House document outlining the program.
A who’s-who of technology names planned to attend, including Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, Oracle Co-CEO Safra Catz and International Business Machines Corp. CEO Ginni Rometty.
Trump’s May 1 executive order creating the American Technology Council called for the group of federal officials to overhaul the use of technology across the government. “Americans deserve better digital services from their government,’’ Trump wrote in the order.
The federal government spends more than $80 billion annually on information technology, employing about 113,000 IT professionals, according to the White House. But many of the information systems used by federal agencies are outdated and inefficient, according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters about the meeting on condition of anonymity.
A recent decision by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to contract with a private company to manage the department’s electronic medical records is an example of the kind of changes the American Technology Council will pursue, the officials said.
Much of the agenda for Monday’s meeting involves seeking ways for the Trump administration to adopt best practices from the private sector, including finding opportunities to recruit talented individuals to join the government.
The officials also planned to discuss the H-1B visa program, which Trump has pledged to scale back despite the objections from Silicon Valley.
The meeting was also notable for who didn’t attend. Tesla CEO Elon Musk left two of Trump’s advisory councils earlier this month after the president announced that he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement.
Additionally, Trump hasn’t filled several top technology positions within the federal government, including those of chief technology officer and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Both officials are listed as members of the American Technology Council.
Trump’s efforts to reach out to Silicon Valley follow the example of former President Barack Obama, who met regularly with technology executives and launched the U.S. Digital Service in an effort to recruit private-sector talent and modernize government.