Trump’s Tech Office Wants More Short-Term Talent

Orhan Cam/

The Office of American Innovation could model its recruitment efforts after Obama-era tech programs.

While key White House technology leadership positions remain unfilled, President Donald Trump’s technology office is looking for ways to bring business professionals into government for short-term projects.

The Office of American Innovation, a new office Trump established to update federal technology, could model some of its recruitment efforts after digitally focused teams founded under Barack Obama. The U.S. Digital Service, which troubleshoots major government projects, and 18F, a digital consultancy, both hire heavily from private sector tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Google.

Chris Liddell, one of the members of the Office of American Innovation, would “love to see us move further and faster, [with] more creative ways of getting people in for particular tours of duty,” he told attendees at a CA Technologies conference in Washington produced by the events division of Government Executive Media Group, Nextgov's parent company. Those periods could be as short as 10 days or up to two years, he explained.

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His team has talked with Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, about Hurd’s idea for a Cybersecurity National Guard, a scholarship program the lawmaker is working on that would require recipients working in the private sector to work at federal agencies for about 10 days each quarter.

Liddell is also concerned about talent at the top: Many agencies do not have permanent chief information officers in place. “There are way too many acting CIOs...We need to fill those and we would be stronger because of it,” he said.

Not everyone agrees that recruiting is the best way to generate new ideas. Archana Vemulapalli, chief technology officer for the District of Columbia, said at that conference that her staff is focused on changing the culture of existing employees who are likely to stick around. Instead of setting up a separate “innovation office” populated by private sector recruits, her approach has been “adding innovation into the culture of every employee in the organization” through additional training.

Liddell added that while the Office of American Innovation intends to encourage creativity among federal technology leadership, that they “need to have guardrails” and a “structured process” for implementing those new ideas.