'They Get It,' Lawmaker Says of Trump's Innovation Office

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, left.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, left. Alex Brandon/AP

Trump's teams have been concerned with federal IT since the transition, Rep. Will Hurd said.

President Donald Trump's new White House office dedicated to improving government services has supported lawmakers' efforts to pass IT modernization legislation, one member of Congress said.

Trump's presidential memorandum established the Office of American Innovation in March. The nascent team, whose mission is to broadly improve government services, is helmed by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and consults with prominent business executives.

To some critics, the Office of American Innovation attempts to solve the same problems the federal government has been grappling with for decades—such as outdated technology—by applying business practices instead of understanding the underlying structural challenges of the Washington bureaucracy. Many members, including Kushner and Reed Cordish, a Baltimore real-estate developer and Trump's assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives, have no prior government experience.

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But "they get it," Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, whose IT modernization legislation is up for a House vote in the coming weeks, told reporters during a press gaggle Tuesday. He met with some of the members including Cordish and technology aide Matt Lira, and they have been "helpful in articulating how they want to use this new tool," Hurd said.

Hurd's Modernizing Government Technology Act, which Tuesday made it through a House oversight committee markup with no amendments and unanimous support, would create working capital funds at individual agencies that could be used for modernization efforts. It would also create a governmentwide fund agencies could apply to for additional money.

Meetings with the office helped Hurd's staff tweak the language of the bill—and Trump's team has been concerned about federal technology since the presidential transition, Hurd explained.

"The transition folks were asking the right questions, like, 'Why does this agency have 14 people with the title [chief information officer]? Why does the CIO not have the complete budget authority? Why are there still 12 agencies where the CIO doesn't report directly to the agency head?'"

Still, Trump hasn't filled several key technology positions, including a federal chief technology officer or CIO, who might provide support for such legislation. During the Obama administration, U.S. CIO Tony Scott championed a $3.1 billion revolving fund agencies could use for modernization projects.

"It's a problem in that you want to have the full team up and running," Hurd said, though he noted the bill has met widespread bipartisan support. Even if those positions aren't filled immediately, "you're not going to have capital in the [working capital] fund right away. It's going to take ultimately a year ... and so you're going to have the right tech leaders come in and take advantage of it," he said.

"You're bringing in people that are new and the first thing you talk to them about is, 'Hey, the MGT Act ... should be something you focus on," Hurd added. They're all going to start their jobs knowing it." 

The Office of American Innovation team is directed to "improve government operations and services, improve the quality of life for Americans now and in the future and spur job creation,” by incorporating business practices into government, according to a presidential memorandum.

Earlier this week, Trump also established the American Technology Council, a group dedicated to modernizing the government's IT, as well as the way it "uses and delivers digital services." That team is chaired by Trump himself and directed by Chris Liddell, his strategic adviser and former chief financial officer at Microsoft, who also serves in the Office of American Innovation; ATC members include Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.