President Donald Trump promised “sweeping transformation” in the federal government’s use of technology as he welcomed top executives from many of the world’s largest tech companies to the White House.
The meeting Monday brought leaders of an industry whose key figures have at times openly clashed with Trump. But none of the executives criticized the president in public sessions, and Trump projected a jovial mood, touting the gains in technology stocks since he took office and expressing confidence his administration would overcome such long-running challenges as modernizing the air traffic system.
He also offered a bit of solace for tech executives on concerns his immigration policies would deny the industry talent, saying he was working “very diligently” with Congress on immigration so “you can get the people you want.”
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who has castigated Trump for his travel ban and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty, responded with praise for Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is leading the administration’s technology sector outreach.
“The U.S. should have the most modern government in the world and today it doesn’t.,” Cook said. “It’s great to see the effort that Jared is putting in in working on things that will pay back in five and 10 and 20 years.”
The meeting Monday of the American Technology Council, which Trump commissioned in May and which is being shepherded by Kushner, kicks off a week of administration events themed on technology.
The agenda featured 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 were in attendance, including Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, Oracle Co-CEO Safra Catz, Alphabet Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt 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 But many of the information systems used by federal agencies are outdated and inefficient, according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters about the meeting on condition of anonymity.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.
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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.
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