northeastern university seal

Leading US technology firms such as Apple and Google gathered on Monday, June 19 to attend the first meeting of the American Technology Council. The Council’s primary mission is to modernize the technology infrastructure used by the federal government. To do this, the group seeks to not only update the physical infrastructure, but also to improve on ineffective policies and practices. The federal government has been plagued by problems caused by outdated Information Technology (IT) infrastructure, including over $29 billion of Medicaid fraud in 2016 and the Office of Personnel Management hack in 2015 that resulted in the theft of personal information of 22 million people.

Floppy Discs
(Floppy Drive, Wikimedia/George Chernilevsky)

The American Technology Council is managed by the White House Office of American Innovation, which is led by senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner. At the beginning of the Monday meeting, Kushner highlighted that the systemic problems with Federal IT infrastructure and practices adversely affect the day to day workings of government departments. Examples of these inefficient practices included the use of floppy disks in some legacy Department of Defense Systems, a lengthy six-month review process to approve changes to a federal website, and an unwieldy backbone of 6,100 data centers that would benefit from consolidation.

Although there are opportunities for large, mutually-beneficial outcomes from public-private engagement, there are also many hurdles. The federal government currently spends over $80 billion on IT per year, but fails to be efficient or up to date, showing that cultural norms within the federal government need to be shifted. Further, the technology is only part of the issue; procurement policies, adoption of paperless methods, and reducing market barriers to entry require forcing widespread changes in the day to day actions of civil servants. However, some CEOs such as Elon Musk are not participating, due to politically contentious policy surrounding climate change, H-1B visas and other issues which have resulted in backlash against the administration.

This effort continues previous attempts by the Obama administration to involve the private sector. The former administration attempted to improve Federal IT through the U.S. Digital Service, a startup that pulled private sector actors and engaged them in solving the problems that civil servants faced. The Technology CEO Council in January 2017 released a report that over one trillion dollars could potentially be saved by the federal government over 10 years if steps were taken to modernize infrastructure by improving supply chain and acquisition policies, increasing use of big data and analytics, as well as taking more concrete, defined steps such as empowering the US Chief Information Officer (CIO) to promote coordination across agency CIOs, etc.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. President Trump to tech titans: Government needs to catch up to industry – USA Today
  2. Tech CEOs descend on White House to talk fixing federal IT – Politico
  3. How proven technology can save taxpayers more than $1 trillion over a decade while enabling more effective government – TechCEOCouncil
  4. Tech CEOs meet with Trump on government overhaul – Reuters
  5. Our Story – USDS
  6. How Trump’s Tech Meeting Could Transform Washington – Fortune