President Trump is welcoming top technology CEOs to the White House on Monday to solicit ideas about modernizing government services as he tries to push a policy agenda amid the daily distractions from the Russia investigation.
"We think of ourselves of having 320 million customers who are our citizens and we want them to receive digitally-enabled government services that are as good as what they receive in the private sector," a senior administration official said.
The administration is hosting working sessions with business leaders on Monday and launching what it's calling the American Technology Council. The effort is spearheaded by the Office of American Innovation, which is run by Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Those expected at the White House include Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter and campaign surrogate, is also expected.
Others include Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard; Zachary Bookman, CEO of OpenGov; Safra Catz, co-chief executive of Oracle; John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins; Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware; Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir; Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel; Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai; Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP; Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm; Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe; Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM and Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture.
The White House's focus on technology this week follows attempts over the last two weeks to draw attention to policy issues, including a week dedicated to infrastructure and another week focused on workforce development. But news relating to Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's attempted meddling in the election overshadowed both efforts.
On Monday, the White House plans to have 10 working sessions over four hours, bringing together people from the private sector, academia and government. Companies will be represented by CEOs, but the White House has also asked them to bring a plus-one expert for the working sessions. "The overall purpose of the day is to support our objective around modernizing government services," the official said.
One example where the government can improve is its IT systems, an official said, arguing people generally feel like they have a better experience with private sector companies like Amazon or FedEx than they do with government-run entities. "Our current services are poor and well behind the private sector," the official said. "We want to improve that and get it to at least a level of the private sector."
"And this is very much about making the average person's day-to-day life better," the official said. "So those 320 million people all interact with the government on a daily or weekly basis in some way, and if we can make individual interactions five, 10, and in some cases, 50 or 100 percent better, that's going to make a fundamental difference to a large number of people in this country."
The White House also argues there's an economic benefit to upgrading government IT systems. One way would be decreasing costs as the government spends more than $80 billion a year on IT, according to the White House. "We think we can save a lot of that by making the infrastructure better and more efficient," the official said.
Reducing fraud and making government IT systems cyber secure is another focus area. "And that's not only for our internal data here in the government but also for all saved citizen data," the official said.
The CEOs are coming to the White House after Disney CEO Bob Iger and Tesla CEO Elon Musk both said they planned to quit being on a White House advisory council after Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords. But administration officials say they don't think the Paris decision will affect these meetings.
"We had virtually no fallback from the Paris thing," an official said.