The White House is hosting leaders and CEOs from leading technology companies this week, hoping to get the best in the biz to figure out why the government sucks so bad at technology. The summit was the first meeting of the American Technology Council, which the administration established in May, led by Jared Kushner. Big boy Jared even made a speech, and presumably received an extra scoop of Cheez-Its at snack time for doing so.
Among the attendees were Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Also present were leaders from companies like Oracle, Intel, and Adobe. Obviously, informal Trump adviser and rumored young-blood enthusiast Peter Thiel was there, too. Notably absent were representatives from Facebook and Cisco, both of which cited scheduling conflicts (sure).
The basic idea behind the council is that private-sector tech is good, but government-run tech is bad — which is true — though that’s probably because Americans don’t want their tax dollars going toward figurative moon shots. According to Politico, “[E]xecutives spent hours brainstorming on topics like the use of artificial intelligence to reduce fraud and the potential for cloud computing to lower the cost of providing government services.” Which, again, is nice in theory, but is completely ignorant of how cumbersome government IT infrastructure is and why it’s that way.
Kushner suggested shifting government data to the cloud. “Federal agencies collectively operate 6,100 data centers,” he noted, “the vast majority of which can be consolidated and migrated to the cloud” (a little fun fact for you tech-heads out there: Remote data centers are what comprise “the cloud”). He also spoke about how the Department of Defense still uses floppy disks (not sure how that matters to the average American, but fair point), and that it takes months to update any government website (in part because the “move fast, break things” ethos doesn’t work for enormous populations of more than 300 million people).
The meeting appears to be fulfilling its implied purpose: making the president look good. Breitbart, to highlight one example, is celebrating how these feeble lefty tech CEOs are bowing before their new god, citing quotes like Eric Schmidt’s: “I’m absolutely convinced that during your administration there is going to be a huge explosion of new opportunities because of the platforms that are getting built in our industry.” (In January, Schmidt told an audience of Googlers that Trump would do “evil things,” citing the president’s stance on immigration.) Jeff Bezos said that Trump could be the “innovation administration,” while Tim Cook pressed the president on immigration and requiring coding classes in public schools.
All of these are empty words as left-leaning Valley CEOs continue to try to play ball with our belligerent president, either out of misguided optimism or a sense of fiduciary duty. Will government IT improve markedly in the Trump years? Probably not.