Trump meets tech leaders to discuss modernising US government

Donald Trump, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Jeff Bezos of Amaazon.

After Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced criticism from Conservatives for holding “secret talks” with Apple chief executive Tim Cook, US President Trump and leaders of major technology companies met at the White House yesterday to work on a joint project; using technology to make America’s government more efficient.

“Today, many of our agencies rely on painfully outdated technology,” Trump told his guests, kicking off what aides have dubbed a ‘technology week’ of events focused on innovation in public services. “Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution.”

His comments came at the inaugural meeting of his American Technology Council, a group of technology leaders and administration officials committed to modernising government information technology and digital services. Trump’s guests at the White House included Tim Cook, as well as Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, Oracle co-chief executive Safra Catz, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

After Trump asked his guests at the technology roundtable to speak individually during a photo opportunity, Cook said the government should have the most modern equipment, and “today it doesn’t.” He added that computer coding should be a required subject in school. For his part, Bezos said the United States needs to work on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

During a session with the same CEOs earlier in the day, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said the Trump administration wants tech companies to help “modernise the government’s technology infrastructure,” by developing or consulting on new solutions for complex challenges such as delivering veterans’ health care benefits and managing budgets, reports USA Today.

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, helped the organise the meeting as head of the White House Office of American Innovation. In Kushner’s presentation, he said federal agencies maintain 6,100 data centres, many of which could be consolidated. He said the government still has data systems that are up to 56 years old, including the continued use of floppy disks at the Pentagon.

“Together,” he told the tech group, “we will unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before.” Trump and Silicon Valley have been opposed on many issues, but: “There are clearly areas where we’re not nearly on the same page,” Cook told Bloomberg Businessweek in a recent interview. “We’re dramatically different. I hope there’s some areas where we’re not. His focus on jobs is good. So we’ll see.”

SAP, a major software company whose chief executive Bill McDermott also attended the summit, “supports the stated goals of the American Technology Council and its efforts to transform and modernise the federal government, and innovate how agencies use and deliver information,” said company spokeswoman Nicola Leske in a statement.