White House CIO to Tech Recruits: Stay in Government

Federal CIO Tony Scott

Federal CIO Tony Scott Susan Walsh/AP

The senior tech officials urged civic-minded tech workers who joined for Obama to stick around in the Trump administration.

President Barack Obama's top tech appointees have a message for recent recruits from the private sector: ride out the transition to a Trump presidency. 

U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith both argued tech programs started under Obama's purview—the General Services Administration's digital consultancy 18F and trouble-shooting team the U.S. Digital Service—should be driven by mission and not by allegiance to a particular candidate or party. 

Both were speaking at a Politico event Friday morning. 

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USDS, founded by some people initially recruited to salvage the buggy HealthCare.gov rollout, still has work to do, Scott said. Asked if HealthCare.gov itself was totally fixed, Scott said, "I don't think so."

While the site is "in much better shape than it was," the "underlying legacy systems and infrastructure are still there. And ultimately, we’ve got to go address those issues," he said.

The projects these tech groups work on aren't "a party issue," Scott added. 

“During this administration, we did open-source policy," he said. "There was a lot of great progress on open data initiatives. I don’t think any of that stuff stops. The business community has embraced this and is counting on that to continue. I don't hear any voices that say, 'stop doing that,' or 'it's not worth it doing that.'"

While it's possible the incoming administration could de-prioritize programs USDS and 18F have been working on under Obama, such as digitizing admissions for refugees, Scott explained techies shouldn't let their personal politics deter them from working for the government. 

“We have challenges in the [Veterans Affairs Department], IRS, in the Department of the Interior ... so maybe priorities shift among certain areas, maybe one thing goes away, but there's tons of other sort of opportunities," he said. "[It] might be a problem in a micro case, but I think [in] the macro, there’s lots of stuff to do.”

Asked if he would stay on as CIO if asked, Scott said, "It depends. I'm really excited about the momentum we've got going," and that he would consider continuing "if it looks like that's something that makes sense." 

Smith echoed Scott's emphasis on mission rather than party allegiance and noted the Obama administration has been able to recruit a group of tech professionals more diverse than many Silicon Valley startups. USDS, for instance, is gender-balanced and has several people of color in leadership positions, she explained. 

Smith said she's "open" to continuing in her role during a Trump administration if asked, but added the role of the CTO isn't "about any particular individual. ... We have a mission."

"We take this baton and hand it off as well as we can" to the incoming administration, she said.