President Trump is set to unveil on Monday a new White House agency called the “Office of American Innovation,” headed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, which will hold extensive powers to overhaul federal procedures and potentially privatize certain government responsibilities by culling ideas from the business community, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The new office headed by Kushner will report directly to his father-in-law and will be staffed by members of the business community and advised by the heads of several large technology and manufacturing companies, including Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, Elon Musk from Tesla and SpaceX, Marc Benioff from Salesforce, Bill Gates, the former chief executive of Microsoft and Ginni Rometty, the chief executive of IBM.
Reporters and tech executives are already weighing in on the proposed plan on Twitter, and their overall assessment isn’t kind:
Well this seems like a recipe for kleptocracy on a gargantuan scale: https://t.co/2GPpN4jlTW
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) March 27, 2017
The intent to create a new administrative office flies in the face of arguments from members of the president’s inner circle that the federal government has become too bloated and has wrestled too much control from other branches of government and the states.
It’s also another attempt to entrench policy creation inside the executive branch and away from Congress after the stinging setback the president suffered in his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In a statement to the Post, Trump said:
“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays. I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”
At 36 years old, Kushner has an almost unprecedented level of access to the president for someone without any political or policy experience. Kushner told the Post that he believed government should be run like a “great American company” which would achieve efficiencies for citizens who are the government’s “customers.”
Again, the Twitter commentariat had some thoughts:
The issues of taking advice of corporate executives on how to streamline government with an eye toward awarding new contracts and potentially privatizing existing services should be obvious.
Kushner told the Post that one of his first priorities would be “reimagining” Veteran’s Affairs, a department that the incoming administration had proposed privatizing before it even took office. That initiative was met with pushback from multiple veterans’ rights organizations.
Executives and investors involved in the program, like Stephen A. Schwarzman, from the Blackstone Group, have come out in favor of the move. Schwarzman said that it’s easy for the private sector to see where “friction” is in a system. Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group is certainly no stranger to friction in its holdings (look at its experience with SeaWorld).
Benioff told the Post that as long as the changes were made with “corresponding values and principles” there shouldn’t be any problems with working alongside the current administration. Benioff even compared Kushner to the entrepreneurs that he invests in. (I guess Benioff appreciated the entrepreneurial pluck of Kushner’s attempt to take control of Middle East peace talks with no prior experience in the region’s political negotiations — except through investments — which no doubt prove him an impartial arbiter.)
The involvement of big tech players becomes more clear when looking at some of the infrastructure initiatives that are potentially in play, according to the Post. They include modernizing the technology and data architectures of every federal department and agency; providing broadband service to all Americans; and re-evaluating workforce training programs.
In all of these instances, it’s important to highlight that new contracts and potential wholesale privatization of government services may be at stake — and will be headed by the president’s son-in-law.
Beyond the tech infrastructure, Kushner’s “SWAT Team” for policy will look to tackle issues like opioid addiction (under the leadership of former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie).
Trump’s team is already incredibly responsive to — and seeking an incredible amount of input from — industry leaders. According to Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris, the representatives from the administration frequently reach out to get input from his company on issues.
Members of the council include Gary Cohn, the ex-Goldman Sachs multi-millionaire who heads the National Economic Council; Chris Liddell, who held the CFO job at Microsoft, GM, and International Paper before joining the talent agency WME; Reed Cordish, who has a history in the high-tech industries of casinos and mall development through his family’s real estate business; Dina Powell, a White House and State Department staffer under George W. Bush and Andrew Bremberg, another former Bush administration appointee.
According to the Post, Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife and the president’s oldest daughter, will “collaborate” with the new office.
The innovation group is being formed just as the president’s budget is making the rounds in Congress. It’s a budget that calls for the evisceration of several agencies and the new group will look to offset those funding cuts with “efficiencies”
Some commentators on Twitter noted that the idea from the administration also looked shockingly familiar:
The new office that Kushner will run sounds intriguing…
… but Obama had a very similar idea first. pic.twitter.com/xI4Ad7KuZv
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) March 27, 2017