US government could save ‘more than a trillion’

US government IT departments

US President Donald Trump told tech leaders that the government needs to catch up with the tech industry to make its computer systems more capable of serving the public, according to a report on USAToday.com

Trump chaired the first formal meeting of the newly created American Technology Council at the White House, and it was attended by almost all of the major tech company leaders you’ll have heard of.

Among them were:

  • Tim Cook, Apple CEO
  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
  • Safra Catz, Oracle co-CEO
  • Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman
  • Bill McDermott, SAP CEO
  • Tom Leighton, Akamai CEO
  • Peter Thiel, Palatir co-founder

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was invited but could not attended due to scheduling conflicts, reports USA Today.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk was one of the tech leaders who decided not to be part of the formal advisory circle, because he didn’t agree with Trump’s immigration policy.

Other tech leaders, including Cook and Bezos, have been critical of the administration’s ban on immigration from some countries, but have decided to continue taking part in the ATC.

Trump has been more active in the tech area than perhaps people might have expected.

As well as creating this American Technology Council, the Trump administration has embarked on an ambitious programme of modernisation of the government’s IT systems.

One of the biggest initiatives announced is the plan to allow the private sector to invest in the air traffic control systems of the US.

Since its creation until now, the US air traffic control system has been owned and managed by the government.

In announcing the initiative, Trump said: “At a time when every passenger has GPS technology in their pockets, our air traffic control system still runs on radar and ground-based radio systems they don’t even make any more, they can’t even fix any more, and many controllers must use slips of paper to track our thousands and thousands of planes that are up in the air.”

As well as the air traffic control systems, numerous computer systems and infrastructures will be upgraded or replaced, in a variety of government departments, and generally adopt more cloud-based, private-sector solutions.

The administration believes the programme will result in better, faster and more suitable services for the general public and other users, as well as save the government billions of dollars.

In fact, Trump claims it will save taxpayers more than $1 trillion over 10 years. “Today, many of our agencies rely on painfully outdated technology, and yet, we have the greatest people in technology that the world has ever seen right here with us in this room,” Trump told the tech leaders.

Unsurprisingly, the US government is a huge user of technology, and owns and manages a vast IT infrastructure.

In a presentation earlier in the week, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said the US government maintains 6,100 data centres and that many of the data systems are more than 50 years old.

A lot of these systems could be replaced with private-sector cloud solutions, he said.

Moreover, most tech experts expect artificial intelligence to become ubiquitous in the next few years, and the government has been looking into how to adopt AI into its processes.

One inherent advantage it has is the huge number of data centres and connected infrastructure all over the US, something which would provide an ideal platform for machine learning and AI systems, which require massive computing resources.

The main issue is security. If moving to private-sector clouds or simply updating and upgrading existing government IT infrastructure makes data more accessible to cyber criminals, it would essentially ruin the project.

Having said that, most people agree that it is virtually impossible to totally secure data as there are always vulnerabilities the hackers can take advantage of.

Perhaps a new approach is needed, one which tackles the source of the problem – the cyber criminals themselves – rather than constantly react to what they do, as that places the government in a “victim” or “hunted” role.

Cyber security is a massive, multibillion-dollar global business, with tens of thousands of companies established in the sector, and yet every day there are news stories of hacks and cyber attacks involving theft of data or worse here, there and everywhere.