CEOs of many of the largest tech companies in the United States converged at the White House to help figure out how to bring the U.S. government into the digital era.
President Donald Trump is looking to overhaul the federal government using the know-how of America’s leading technology companies to cut costs and elevate services.
It’s a process that has just begun, but Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, said she can see change happening already.
“The efforts around workforce development, around cybersecurity, around modernization, while they’re difficult, in this short time there has been progress made,” she said.
Many of the CEOs and academics attending voiced their enthusiasm for the effort that the Trump administration hopes can save $1trillion over 10 years.
“Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens,” Trump told the assembled CEOs.
For many of those companies, that effort could lead to increased contracts for the federal government. For citizens, it is an opportunity to get faster, more secure services from a more responsive bureaucracy.
A key measure of success has to be the actual lived experiences of citizens using government services, said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
“The services of the government should be measured on how pleased the citizens are with receiving those services,” he said.
Cook said that “is not how it is done today.”
Like Apple, which is famous for its customer care, many of the CEOs attending the session head companies that excel in areas critical for the U.S. government, be it cloud computing (Amazon) or making the sometimes byzantine operations of the bureaucracy transparent to the citizens who pay for it (OpenGov).
The CEOs were attending as part of the American Technology Council, a group that began with an executive order on May 1, mandating the participation of key Cabinet members, from the secretary of defense to the director of the office of management and budget.
Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner, who both serve as advisers in the Trump administration, have played key roles pushing the effort forward, noted many of the CEOs in attendance.
One model to look at for going forward, said Kiron Skinner, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is the fruitful collaboration between government, industry and academia that helped regenerate the economy in the early years of the Cold War.
That three-sided partnership has been critical to American innovation in the past, noted Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of cloud computing company VMware. He said VMware grew out of the “great seed corn planted” decades ago with investments from government and university.
“We deeply believe we need to be planting those seed corns for our children and grandchildren.
It’s an approach several of the executives voiced support for, noting the potential to bring America’s greatest innovators together in a shared effort.
“The partnership between academia, the government and commercial enterprise is such a powerful combination combined with leadership, which is critical for real success,” said Safra Catz, co-chief executive of Oracle.
With the Trump administration facing a particularly divided Congress, and public sentiment polarized around the administration, such efforts are one area Trump can move the ball forward with little political resistance.
Speaking to the roundtable, Trump said his administration was embracing “big change, bold thinking, and outsider perspectives to transform government.”
“Fifty years ago, our government drove the innovation that inspired the world and put Americans on the moon,” said Trump. “Today, many of our agencies rely on painfully outdated technology, and yet, we have the greatest people in technology that the world has ever seen right here with us in this room.”