BY JONATHAN EASLEY
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will be among the business leaders at the White House on Monday as the internal think tank led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner begins the long process of modernizing the government’s information technology systems.
The Trump administration will shift its focus to the tech sector this week as part of an ongoing effort to keep its policy ambitions on the front burner.
Over the past two weeks, the administration’s focus on infrastructure and workforce development were swamped by former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate and the battle lines drawn between the White House and the special counsel overseeing a broad investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
On Monday, the Office of American Innovation, a Kushner-led group inside the West Wing, will conduct the first of many brainstorming sessions with about 18 CEOs and two-dozen more business experts. The White House also plans to unveil a new technology council.
Trump and Vice President Pence will swing by the working sessions on Monday. Kushner, his wife Ivanka Trump and most of Trump’s senior aides and advisers will participate.
So too will Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
The presence of Cook and Bezos could make for some interesting dynamics.
Last year, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products after the company refused to help federal authorities hack an iPhone used by one of the two shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack. Trump also has a running feud with the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Among the other CEOs who will be present: Ajay Banga of MasterCard, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Brian Krzanich of Intel and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, who spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention last year.
“This is just the beginning of a multiyear process,” a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters.
“The problems we are looking at in the Office of American Innovation are not quick fixes,” the official continued. “These are things that are going to require years to really make significant progress on. Our systems are in some cases 10 to 20 years out of date, so we’re not going to fix that in one day. But we have to start now. And this day we believe will be a significant one in terms of generating ideas and potential solutions to some of the problems.”
The White House has outlined three goals for American Innovation Office’s IT overhaul.
Chief among them is modernizing the government’s digital capabilities so that citizens can receive federal services that are “as good as what they receive in the private sector.”
A senior administration officials said the average citizen spends 35 hours a year interacting with government agencies, a statistic the White House would like to see reduced dramatically.
“Our IT systems and the services we provide are years, or in some cases, decades out of date,” the official said. “So our current services are poor and well behind the private sector. We want to improve that and get it to at least a level of the private sector.”
The second goal is aimed at finding efficiencies to reduce government spending on IT by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
Those savings would purportedly come from decreasing government IT costs, estimated at $80 billion a year, through better and more efficient infrastructure; by leveraging the full bargaining power of the U.S. government as the world’s largest buyer of data platforms; and by rooting out fraud and waste through machine learning programs utilized by the major credit card companies.
“The trillion dollars is actually a supportable number but it’s an opportunity. It’s not a solid plan that we have at this stage,” the official said.
The third focus of the group will be cybersecurity and ensuring the government’s internal data is adequately protected.
Several high-profile CEOs — including Disney’s Bob Iger and Tesla’s Elon Musk — left a White House economic council to protest Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
An administration official said that hasn’t impacted the White House’s ability to draw major CEOs to its roundtable events. The officials said the demand to participate in Monday’s events were such that the White House had to turn some away.