The White House plans to huddle with top executives from Apple, Facebook, Google and other tech giants next month to brainstorm ways that the U.S. government can put more of its “citizen services” online and tackle thorny policy issues like high-skilled immigration.
Both items are part of a lengthy agenda — obtained by
Recode on Friday — that awaits the inaugural gathering of the American Technology Council, an effort by President Donald Trump to modernize the inner workings of Washington that’s being spearheaded by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
In the words of the White House, “the American people should be able to interact with the government the way that they do with the best private-sector companies — through intuitive digital experiences that effectively solve problems.”
However, many federal agencies currently offer a “very poor experience defined by outdated websites, unhelpful call centers, and thousands of pages of paper-based forms,” the Trump administration believes. To that end, it’ll ask some of Silicon Valley’s biggest brands to share their ideas for making government “more intuitive, user-friendly and effective.”
The White House declined to comment for this story.
Announced in April, the American Technology Council is composed of federal officials who oversee technology-focused agencies, and it’s officially led by Chris Liddell, a White House aide who previously served as the chief financial officer at Microsoft. The initiative itself lives under the umbrella of Kushner’s Office of American Innovation, which aspires to cure longtime, unresolved government ills, such as the poor, aging technology in use at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Few disagree that the U.S. government is in need of a digital upgrade. But at least one issue teed up for the council’s first-ever meeting, set for June 19, could prove particularly contentious: High-skilled immigration.
In April, Trump rattled some in Silicon Valley when he signed an executive order that promised greater oversight of the country’s H-1B visas, a popular program in the tech industry, which has sought to hire more foreign workers. And before that, many tech companies blasted the president for his directive targeting travelers and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. For now, though, Trump’s council will solicit feedback on ways to “ensure that [H-1B visas] are issued to the highest skilled and highest paid workers.”
Beyond immigration, the president’s initiative is looking for potential reforms to how Washington buys its computers, software and other tech tools, according to a copy of the invite. That’s an intriguing prospect for the likes of Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, all major sellers to the U.S. government — and all invitees to the White House event.
They’ll also discuss avenues for regulators to leverage some of Silicon Valley’s most prized advances, like “machine learning,” in order to tackle issues like government waste and fraud. Still another focus on tap is analytics, as the White House tech council looks to publish more information “to track outcomes” at federal agencies. And they’ll explore new initiatives for improving the government’s own tech workforce — including an “exchange” program of sorts that might allow tech engineers to serve brief tours of duty in Washington, D.C.