Trump Promises 'Massive Program' to Upgrade Federal IT Systems

Evan Vucci/AP

The Office of American Innovation hosted tech executives, including IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, to discuss business-inspired solutions to government problems.

President Donald Trump wants to revamp federal IT because the cost of preserving old computer systems is “so high, it’s not even a believable number,” he told a group of prominent business executives Tuesday.

Addressing the group in Washington, Trump said he’d heard the cost of keeping government computer systems updated and running is anywhere between “$39 billion to $89 billion a year,” according to a White House transcript.

“Is this possible?” he asked the “Strategic and Policy CEO Discussion” attendees, who included Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. “And I think we can buy a whole new system for less money than that, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I hope so. We’ll give you $10 billion right now—modernize it.”

Trump said he was planning a “massive program to modernize our equipment—ideally, get brand-new equipment,” according to that transcript.

The meeting, hosted by the newly created Office of American Innovation, was structured so business leaders could talk to Trump’s cabinet members in small groups about ways to meet internal goals. Government attendees included Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, per a pool report.

During the meeting, hosted in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Trump said his team was “working with a very, very wonderful woman” from IBM, referencing Rometty.

“I love your computers, but we’re also looking at others, all right,” Trump said, according to the transcript. “We have a computer system in this country that's 40 years old. So when you hear we're hacked ... we're like easy targets.”

The Office of American Innovation was created to apply business practices to government problems, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing Tuesday. Aside from recommending new ways to create jobs, that team, led by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will “develop innovative solutions” to challenges such as the “crumbling infrastructure and broken system” at the Veterans Affairs Department.