Think Beyond Modernization, Tech Execs Told Trump

President Donald Trump, center, speaks as he is seated between Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, left, and Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, right, during an American Technology Council roundtable at the White House.

President Donald Trump, center, speaks as he is seated between Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, left, and Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, right, during an American Technology Council roundtable at the White House. Alex Brandon/AP

Silicon Valley bigwigs discussed machine learning, open data and the need for government spending on research.

The combined market value of the White House’s most recent visitors tops $3 trillion, a fact not lost on President Donald Trump.

Monday was the inaugural American Technology Council meeting, Trump’s effort to solicit powerful business leaders’ input on federal challenges. Amazon, Apple, IBM and Microsoft chief executives Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Ginni Rometty and Satya Nadella made the trek to Washington this week. The leaders met with federal agency heads during closed sessions that afternoon.

In the on-camera portion of the meeting, Trump called attendees “an incredible group of leaders on the absolute cutting edge of innovation,” quipping that “[w]e have approximately $3.5 trillion of market value in this room—but that’s almost the exact number that we’ve created since my election.”

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Executives sketched out their policy concerns—some of which are at odds with the administration’s—on topics such as immigration.

Nadella, for instance, acknowledged “how important an agenda it is to modernize technology,” but noted much of today’s technology has its roots in government research, and encouraged Trump to spend in “big research.” The White House’s recent budget proposal slashed federal dollars for research and development.

“After all, all the technology that we have, is because it started, in fact, in the government and the recent institutions you funded, as well as the enlightened immigration policy,” Nadella said, adding, “of course I’m a beneficiary of that.” The Trump White House has also advocated for rolling back H-1B visas, which allow companies to hire foreign workers for high-skilled jobs.

Trump asked other attendees to keep their comments brief after Nadella’s. Bezos urged the administration to “use commercial technology wherever possible” and to invest in machine learning and artificial intelligence at every level of government. Cook said coding should be a public school requirement.

John Doerr, head of the venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, proposed the White House consider itself the “Data Liberation Administration” by opening federal data sets to the public.

“There’s a trillion dollars' worth of value locked up in government databases, and if we unlock that, we can transform health care, we can improve services for citizens, we can improve services for citizens," he said. "We could lower the cost of government, and if you lower the costs to government and if you set the data free, the entrepreneurs are going to do the rest.”

Trump said his administration’s progress in modernizing IT has been “very historic,” citing efforts to spin the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control operations off to the private sector.

“You’re seeing what we’re doing with the airports, with all of the billions and billions of dollars that have been spent on planes flying all in the wrong directions—we’re getting a change,” Trump said. He also pointed to the Veterans Affairs Department's recent move to adopt the same electronic health records system as the Pentagon, allowing patients to shift their documents between care providers. Though that decision was announced this month, efforts to reform that process began long before he took office.

A handful of Trump’s senior advisers attended the meeting, along with executives from MIT, Oracle, Akamai, VMware, Palantir and other tech giants. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and Chris Liddell, former Microsoft chief financial officer and Trump’s current director for strategic initiatives, sat in on the meeting. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, who heads the White House’s new Office of American Innovation, were also present.

The closed sessions covered topics including cloud computing, closing data centers, and federal procurement, Recode reported.

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