- The White House is asking major tech firms to help upgrade the government.
- Apple, Amazon, Oracle and Qualcomm are among those tapped
- Kushner and other top advisers approached the firms
The White House has asked the likes of Apple, Amazon, Oracle and Qualcomm to lend some of their digital expertise to Washington, D.C. in the coming months to help the Trump administration rethink the way that federal agencies use technology.
On a private call with those and other major tech companies Thursday, top advisers to the president, including Jared Kushner, announced the White House would be forming small "centers of excellence," teams focused on reducing regulation while trying to get federal agencies to embrace cloud computing and make more of their data available for private-sector use, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.
As part of those centers, Kushner and his aides with the Office of American Innovation asked the tech industry for its help — potentially through a system where leading tech engineers can do brief "tours of duty" advising the U.S. government on some of its digital challenges.
For now, the effort is still early, but the huddle marks the next step for Kushner's effort to modernize government after Trump convened the chief executives of Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley staples at the White House in June — part of the administration's push that month with "tech week."
Tech leaders who joined the president, like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, specifically encouraged Trump to make it easier for companies to sell off-the-shelf technologies to the feds. Others, like John Doerr, a top Silicon Valley venture capitalist, touted the need for regulators to release more of their data so that startups — including, perhaps, some of his own — can use those insights in areas like health care.
Two months later, those leaders' representatives joined a Thursday call with the White House, as did officials from Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Mastercard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, sources said.
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Along with a preview of the administration's new plans to convene "centers of excellence," they heard from Reed Cordish, one of Trump's top tech aides, who pledged that the White House would continue its efforts to boost computer science education. Sources said the administration specifically is exploring how to expand Trump's recent executive order targeting apprenticeship programs to include K-12 education.
Computer science is an issue Apple CEO Tim Cook raised with the president during tech week: The tech executive specifically floated coding education as a requirement in schools.
For now, though, it's unclear how the White House's newest plan meshes with existing government teams, including 18F, an initiative launched by former President Barack Obama to help the lumbering federal bureaucracy improve the way it buys and uses technology.
A spokesman for Kushner's Office of American Innovation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Thursday, though, Kushner's office helped Trump unveil a new set of tech tools at the Department of Veterans Affairs — an agency long maligned for its long wait times and tech troubles.
Flanked by Trump at the White House, VA officials demonstrated their new telehealth app, which allows medical professionals in its network to meet and diagnose their veteran patients over video that's streamed to smartphones, tablets or desktop. The system has been in development since last year, and the department will aim to roll it out nationwide over the course of 2017.
"We're launching the mobile app that will allow VA patients to schedule and change their appointments at VA facilities using their smartphones," Trump said. "So this is something they were never able to do. Technology has given us this advantage, but unfortunately we have not taken advantage of that until now."
—By Tony Romm, Re/code.net.
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