Trump Creates New Tech Council to Tackle Federal IT Modernization

Carolyn Kaster/AP

A new order offers another sign that agency heads, not CIOs, will be responsible for federal systems.

President Donald Trump wants to modernize the federal government’s aging IT systems and the digital services they provide citizens, and he’s established a council of agency heads and federal executives to help him do it.

An executive order signed Monday establishes the American Technology Council to “coordinate the vision, strategy and direction” of IT across government and provide advice regarding its use.

“Americans deserve better digital services from their government,” the order states. “To effectuate this policy, the federal government must transform and modernize its information technology and how it uses and delivers digital services.”

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Trump himself will chair the council and has designated Chris Liddell, the White House director of strategic initiatives, as its director.

Members also include Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and several presidential advisers, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and others within Trump’s newly created Office of American Innovation.  

Government technology leaders also have a seat at the table—or they will, once appointed. General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Service Commissioner Rob Cook will play a role, but several of the positions within the American Technology Council are filled by acting officials, such as Tim Horne at GSA and Matt Cutts, acting U.S. Digital Service administrator. Others have not been filled at all, including the federal chief technology officer, federal chief information officer and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology.

It doesn’t appear the council will hold regular meetings but will instead gather at the behest of Trump or Liddell through “ad hoc committees, task forces or interagency groups,” though the order makes clear they won’t address national security systems.

The council’s efforts will mirror those of the Office of American Innovation, and the clout of its membership furthers Trump’s commitment to hold agency heads accountable for cybersecurity and modernization efforts.  

The order comes only three days after Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, introduced a new IT modernization bill, the Modernizing Government Technology Act, to the House. Hurd told Nextgov White House officials, including Liddell and Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives, played integral roles in crafting the legislation.