sinkhole

A White House task force wants to tap into Elon Musk and other CEOs to tackle government’s problems. Will it work?

By Tina Irgang

This week, President Donald Trump announced the new White House Office of American Innovation (OAI), which is tasked with using ideas from the business world to solve some of the most entrenched problems facing the federal government.

The office will be headed by Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, as first reported by The Washington Post. “Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy,” The Post goes on to say.

Kushner, himself a real-estate executive, will be joined at the OAI by two former Goldman Sachs executives, and the new White House office has already held meetings with some of the country’s most well-known CEOs, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Apple’s Tim Cook, reports USA Today.

The official White House memorandum creating the OAI outlines its responsibilities as follows: “The OAI shall launch initiatives with a focus on innovation, coordinate implementation of any resulting plans, and create reports for the president setting forth policy recommendations. In carrying out these activities and producing these reports, the OAI shall gather information, ideas and experiences from other parts of government, from the private sector, and from other thought leaders and experts outside of the federal government.”

The memorandum provides little detail on specific issues the OAI is tasked with addressing, but later announcements have given a sense of some of the broad focus areas. They include reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs; a solution for the nation’s opioid crisis; modernization of the technology infrastructure at federal agencies; changes to workforce training programs; and the development of major infrastructure projects, such as providing broadband services to all Americans, according to The Washington Post.

Does OAI offer a chance for reform?

“Among the people Kushner’s office has reached out to are several who have criticized his father-in-law’s policies and presidency,” which could signal a non-partisan approach that’s more likely to attract a broad cross-section of thought leaders, according to The Verge.

So far, some of the most high-profile CEOs who have been named in conjunction with OAI deliberations are treading carefully. Yahoo Finance cites a statement from The Gates Foundation that acknowledges Bill Gates knows of the OAI, but otherwise says only that “we look forward to learning more about the goals and priorities of the office.”

Meanwhile, Salesforce — whose CEO has also been named as being involved in OAI deliberations — issued a statement saying, “Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff doesn’t have a formal role in the Trump administration, but offers his thoughts and ideas when they are sought on topics on which he can be helpful.”

Of course, any broad plan to reform the federal government is likely to trigger some anxiety. As Wired points out, the office “will need to tread carefully. Government acts as the support upon which all of democratic society sits. When Kushner and his team get to smashing, they need to steer clear of the foundation.”

That said, some of the issues the OAI is set to tackle could indeed benefit from a business mindset, notably veterans’ care, the opioid crisis and the rollout of universal broadband, Wired adds.

In the end, the OAI’s success is likely to depend on whether it attracts, considers and makes use of ideas from as diverse a group of experts as possible.

Tina Irgang is SmartCEO’s managing editor. Contact her at tina@smartceo.com.