Trump tech office reaches out to feds

The White House's Matt Lira describes weekly meetings to forge and foster collaboration across siloed tech groups.

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A priority of the new White House office tasked with reinventing government business practices and fixing federal IT is meeting with feds to forge and foster collaboration among siloed tech groups.

At a June 15 digital government event hosted by FedScoop, Matt Lira, the special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives, said the Jared Kushner-led Office of American Innovation, of which Lira is a member, can improve federal IT by aligning progress already being made at the agency level.

Lira acknowledged that widespread federal IT challenges can contribute to the "dissonance between policy implementation and operational reality," but said addressing technology in a bipartisan way could help "cure the public’s frustration with government."

"The real way to tackle this problem is to bring people together, do some structural reforms, build great consensus in communities around the policymaking space and have those systems work on an ongoing basis to continually modernize government systems," he said. "At a certain point, it’s not about changing the manager. It’s about changing the manual."

Practically speaking, Lira said, OAI tries to address that problem by holding weekly meetings to bring together feds from government's "pockets of excellence" --  individuals who are "as frustrated by the operational barriers … as the American public is" -- and connect them to private-sector expertise.

"Some of these folks have never really talked to each other on a regular basis," he said, adding that "the most exciting thing for me is the connection of policymakers with engineers."

The goals of the weekly meetings, Lira said, include developing "new operational rules, getting rid of out-of-date regulations [and] providing political top-cover to [allow feds] to do what they want to do."

In terms of what the OAI is specifically looking to fix, Lira said, "it’s a combination of front-end citizen experiences and underlying policy."

"A lot of times these teams that come in, they want to hack around problems," he added, "but I think we’re also looking to hack at the problem itself."

Lira pointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s recent decision to ditch VA's homegrown electronic health record system in favor of a commercial solution used by the Pentagon "almost as a model" for tackling core problems head-on.

Lira said that in addition to "CIO agency personnel," representatives from 18F and the U.S. Digital Service are also involved in these weekly meetings.

"They’re wholly bought in and wholly involved in the process and have the full support of the administration," he said. "The teams there are incredible, as are the teams at OCIO and many other places. It’s about getting these groups to work together."

Lira, who has called the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act a "model" for broader government innovation, also lent his support for the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which passed the House but has not yet been taken up in the Senate.

Lira declined to provide details on the OAI meeting with executives from major tech companies set for June 19, but added, "stay tuned. It will be exciting."