Donald Trump’s son-in-law and consigliere Jared Kushner wears a lot of hats in the White House: He’s supposed to be resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending the opioid crisis, overhauling veterans care, and leading diplomatic outreach to China.
Unlike on those tasks, Kushner appears to be making headway on yet another one: creating jobs overhauling the tech of the federal government. Per an executive order signed Monday morning, Kushner and two deputies are launching a group called the American Technology Council, a joint effort between Silicon Valley and the White House to “transform and modernize” how the federal government “uses and delivers digital services.”
The council will hold a Washington summit in June where “about 20 leading tech CEOs will spend half a day in working sessions,” according to Axios. Real estate scion Reed Cordish and ex-Microsoft exec Chris Liddell are the two White House aides reportedly spearheading the new group, which will include Cabinet-level officials, such as the secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Commerce.
Representatives for Amazon, Apple, Google, Tesla, and Microsoft — whose CEOs have previously met publicly with the Trump administration — did not immediately respond to requests asking if they plan to work with the council or attend the June summit. A spokesperson for ride-hailing giant Uber said the company is “not participating in this initiative.” A representative for Facebook declined to comment.
Silicon Valley leadership, which almost uniformly lined up behind Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, is split when it comes to the Trump administration. On the one hand, the tech industry’s social liberalism and immigration-friendly politics clash strongly with the current White House and the modern Republican party. Trump and the GOP have taken aim at foreign-worker visas favored by Silicon Valley, and tech executives have publicly and privately condemned Trump’s “gratuitously evil” executive orders on refugees and immigration.
Then again, tech companies have trillions of dollars stored in overseas tax havens, and they’d like a corporate tax holiday during which they could bring it all home. And Trump, who wants to pass an infrastructure investment bill, will likely have to tap repatriated corporate tax dollars to make that happen.
For some tech companies, appearing to work with the Trump administration has come at a heavy cost. For example, a social media campaign aimed at Uber took off in late January, ultimately netting the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick from a separate business advisory council to the White House (on which Tesla CEO Elon Musk still serves).
The Obama administration, which was notoriously close to Silicon Valley’s ruling class, put a lot of time and resources into modernizing government internet practices and services. Since Trump took office, however, units like the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the United States Digital Service remain critically understaffed and go virtually unmentioned by current administration officials.
In Congress, two separate, bipartisan bills also aimed at “modernizing” the federal government’s IT practices are currently making their way through the House. Cordish and Liddell, representing Kushner’s Office of American Innovation and its reformist agenda, have already signaled their support for the legislation.