While presidential handoffs always come with an element of uncertainty, the arrival in Washington of Donald Trump as president brings even more unknowns.
Before the election some 140 technology leaders warned Trump “would be a disaster for innovation.” But the president-elect commended tech leaders at a Dec. 14 summit meeting at Trump Tower, saying “there’s nobody like you in the world” and “I’m here to help you folks do well.” The tech titans – including Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s president and chairman; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, the top two officers at Google’s parent, Alphabet; Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; Tesla CEO Elon Musk; IBM CEO Ginni Rommety; Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins; Palantir CEO Alex Karp; and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich – shared their ideas on education, immigration and innovation.
Now just weeks from assuming office, the early dire predictions are giving way to more pragmatic analysis.
“Anything is possible,” Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation told CNN recently. “Obama tried to use IT for innovation in government. What I think Trump will do is try to use IT for efficiency and cost-cutting in government.”
Here’s a look at seven trends and how they’ll fare after Trump becomes president Jan. 20.
The Obama administration put a premium on digital technology and innovation, establishing U.S. Digital Services and the General Services Administration’s 18F organization, bringing with them agile software development and a taste of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. They also sought to cut through acquisition timelines by bypassing conventional bidding and setting up organizations like the military tech accelerator Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the Homeland Security Administration’s Procurement Innovation Laboratory.
President Obama established new federal tech titans, including a chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), chief data officer and chief information security officer (CISO), each with authority across the executive branch, as part of his effort to accelerate modernization and technology insertion across the federal enterprise. Whether or not Trump retains those positions – or any of their occupants – is up in the air. Federal CIO Tony Scott expressed openness to continuing in his post, as has CISO Gregory Touhill, a retired Air Force brigadier general, who said he’s taken the job “for the long term.” While the jury may be out on whether a federal CTO or chief data officer is a necessity, there is clear value in the other two positions as a means of driving overall policy.
Innovation is a mindset. Trump’s leadership style and business experience would suggest innovation is most valued when it pays off. As a businessman, Trump understands risk and knows both how to take and mitigate risks to his advantage.
The campaign’s use of technology tools could offer clues to the administration’s approach, as well. In an interview in Forbes, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said he drove sales of hats and other campaign merchandise from $8,000 a day to $80,000 after “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting.” Similarly, the campaign leveraged $160,000 in low-tech policy videos into more than 74 million views.
The picture begins to emerge of a strategy that embraces technology innovation not as an end in itself, but rather as a tool to be tapped as needed. Look for Trump to do the same as chief executive.
2 Acquisition Reform
Among Trump’s biggest challenges in making government more efficient is breaking through an acquisition process that’s slow, risk-averse and mired in bureaucracy. “Government’s acquisition of technology and professional services is too slow and fails to incentivize innovation and creativity to help the government improve its mission outcomes,” argues a Professional Services Council policy paper developed for the next administration. The next administration should “lean heavily toward best commercial, as opposed to government-unique, practices and dynamics.”
Expect Team Trump to continue recent “strategic sourcing” initiatives, in which agencies seek to maximize return on investment and narrow the number of suppliers for commodity products and services. Such moves make practical business sense. But also look for the administration to reduce regulatory hurdles that add costs and slow down procurements.
The new president brings a practical outsider’s sensibility to the job, prompting surprise reactions, like his criticism of the Air Force’s plans to replace Air Force One, a program worth up to $4 billion for just two custom-equipped Boeing 747s. Trump’s tweet that the program should be cancelled in early December signaled not just a threat to that program, but also a willingness to challenge status quo thinking on high-profile government programs. His tweet attack calling the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as “out of control” offered another shot across the bow to the defense industry. But he’s certainly not the first to throw rocks at the F-35, the most expensive military program in history.
Now comes the hard part: translating emotional interest in a high-profile program into legislative detail. Washington has wrestled with acquisition reform for decades, but the process hasn’t gotten simpler or easier, and in some ways may now be worse. Look for the new administration to seek ways to eliminate layers of administrative requirements that run up costs and slow down work without adding to mission effectiveness.
3 Artificial intelligence
The Obama administration touted its Third Offset strategy to describe Pentagon efforts to harness digital computing technology that gives America a force-multiplying tactical and strategic edge on the future battlefield. One key component is artificial intelligence (AI), which has major implications for everything from unmanned aircraft and driverless vehicles to customer contact systems, cybersecurity and individualized education and training.
The National Science and Technology Council’s subcommittee on machine learning and AI issued a report, Preparing for the future of AI, in October. The report addresses AI policy implications across the spectrum of applications and discusses government’s role in advancing and regulating the technology. In a sense, the document is a guide to next steps for the incoming administration.
Some worry that the new president will slash research investment and pull back from government-supported technology. But total government investment in unclassified AI research is only about $1.2 billion – less than many individual firms invest in the technology annually. And no technology has more promise to increase human productivity – and therefore economic growth – than AI.
The president-elect listed AI, along with 3D printing and cyber warfare, as “areas where our technological superiority gives us an edge” in an April policy speech. No other technologies made his list.
Trump has long had the backing of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a notable exception among the tech elite. And Thiel, on Trump’s transition team, supports AI research and safety initiatives, and will be a voice for the technology and its potential economic and government service benefits in the administration.
4 Identity Authentication
Today, cybersecurity looms large in all our minds. But practically speaking, the most basic element of security is personal identification and authentication. Indeed, the issue played a significant behind-the-scenes role during the campaign. Federal investigators discovered the hacking attack on Democratic National Committee in September 2015; a New York Times account indicates Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, incorrectly legitimized a phishing email sent to the personal account of John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman,that gave Russian hackers their way into the DNC computers. Malware then routed exfiltrated files back to the hackers in Russia.
The DNC may be the poster child for hacks these days, but the problem with phishing and passwords is hardly unique. Multifactor authentication is ascendant and better solutions than passwords are in demand.
Market researcher Forrester predicts that by 2019, “it will be possible to break even the most complex passwords, making everyone vulnerable to devastating breaches.”
So it’s no surprise that President Obama’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity released a report Dec. 1 urging the next president to adopt multifactor authentication for mobile devices based on standards developed by the Fast IDentity Online (FIDO) Alliance.
“FIDO specifications are focused largely on the mobile smartphone platform to deliver multifactor authentication to the masses, all based on industry standard public key cryptography,” the commission notes. “This work, other standards activities, and new tools that support continuous authentication provide a strong foundation for opt-in identity management for the digital infrastructure.”
Within government, the Defense Department expects to launch pilot projects in early 2017 testing new multifactor authentication solutions to replace its common access card (CAC). Most civilian agencies meanwhile, still struggle to implement multifactor solutions. The federal IT dashboard once listed percentages of agency users required to use strong authentication, but no longer discloses that information.
Securing individuals’ identities is the first line of defense in cybersecurity. Human error is responsible for more than half of all cyber breeches, according to the BakerHostetler 2016 Data Security Incident Report. In more than half those cases, the errors involve giving up information like passwords to open the door into a system. Biological markers — whether fingerprints, voice matching, facial recognition, or iris scans — are all on the table as potential technologies for replacing passwords and for positively identifying travelers, employees and more.
Trump promised to complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system, presently in pilot stage, as part of his overall immigration policy. “In my Administration, we will ensure that this system is in place at all land, air, and sea ports,” he said.
Media reports note that Michael T. Dougherty, CEO of the Secure Identity and Biometrics Association (SIBA), is managing Department of Homeland Security issues on Trump’s transition team. With 20 years of legal and policy experience in the federal government and particular interest in biometrics, that could be a good omen for the biometrics identity industry.
5 Cybersecurity Talent Development
Competition for talented cyber professionals is intense, with as many as 1 million unfilled cyber vacancies worldwide. Some 60 percent of U.S. government IT leaders say they don’t have enough cybersecurity experts on hand to meet demand, according to (ISC)2’s Global Information Security Workforce Study.
Filling that gap is a top priority for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) and others closely engaged on the matter and working with universities, training specialists and others to identify and train the talent they need. NIST’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) provides a government-wide framework to identify, recruit and train cyber professionals in seven distinct areas: Cyber Incident Response, Cyber Risk and Strategic Analysis, Vulnerability Detection and Assessment, Intelligence and Investigation, Networks and Systems Engineering, Digital Forensics and Forensics Analysis and Software Assurance.
One problem the Trump administration faces is convincing qualified candidates to join the government workforce. “Women and men across the West Coast have cutting-edge cybersecurity skills and technical knowledge, but lack viable, short-term opportunity to place their talents in the service of national security,” notes the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at UC Berkeley in a series of policy recommendations for the incoming president. “Our Executive Branch must develop new ways to bring the private sector’s most innovative technologists into national service, while also permitting that talent to stay connected to private sector cyber innovation.”
The report recommends creating a nimble cyber incubator in Silicon Valley and providing streamlined security clearances to allow some of the nation’s “best technologists to work on national security challenges without giving up their work cultures and networks.”
The report also suggests the incoming president launch a new Cyber Advanced Research Projects Agency (CARPA) to focus on long-term cyber needs.
Trump has already backed the idea of public-private partnerships to spur investment in national energy and infrastructure; whether he will extend that to the cyber area remains to be seen. The Presidential Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity also focused on this problem. Its report urges the next president to initiate a national cybersecurity apprenticeship program to train 50,000 new cybersecurity practitioners by 2020 and national cybersecurity workforce program to train 100,000 new cybersecurity practitioners by 2020.
Trump has yet to signal a specific policy direction in this area, but given the high-profile role Cybersecurity breaches played during the election campaign, it’s logical to expect it will continue to be a priority.
6 Software-Defined Everything
The expanding trend toward virtualization and replicating hardware systems with centrally controlled software-defined solutions won’t let up. Market researcher Gartner says software-defined data centers will be a global priority by 2020 and Allied Market Research projects 32 percent annual growth, making SDDC a $139 billion market by 2022. The rise of virtualization has driven a shift in emphasis, with IT engineers moving away from a world built around hardware, toward a range of software-based architectures.
The business advantages to software-defined networks and data architectures is that they can be more readily changed and reconfigured than hardware, reducing labor and potentially increasing security, as well as saving time in provisioning new services. While the Obama administration championed commercial cloud solutions and new technologies, Trump’s team may be more conservative in its approach to security and risk. That could mean a swing toward private clouds, or cloud-like SDDCs, which offer many of the speed and flexibility advantages of cloud, while still maintaining local control of data.
NIST is working to develop test and measurement techniques “to advance the state of the art in network virtualization, network service function chaining, software defined networks, technologies and techniques to address robustness safety and security of virtualized network services” and to explore and support machine to machine communications, advanced mobility and cloud computing. NIST’s Advanced Networks and Technologies Division is developing acquisition tools and secure deployment guidance for emerging network function virtualization (NFV) and SDN technologies.
Virtualized infrastructure will require a new approach and understanding of what IT infrastructure is, potentially freeing IT projects from conventional capital acquisition cycles, said Miklos Sandorfi, senior vice president, Product Engineering at Sungard Availability Services.
7 Big Data, Open Data
Data is the fuel on which artificial intelligence thrives. It also provides the evidence needed to drive increased efficiency in government operations and faster, more accurate intelligence in national security. Jared Kushner’s use of Facebook micro-targeting to increase sales of Trump campaign items, mentioned earlier, is a clear indication the Trump team understands the value of data-driven decisions.
The Obama administration came to Washington promising to increase government transparency and focused much of that effort on efforts to share public data, hiring the first federal chief data officer, D.J. Patil, among other initiatives. Whether that fledgling effort continues under President Trump remains an open question.
What is clear, however, is that a business-minded leader experienced in managing financials should understand the power of data to expose how well or poorly run an organization might be. He should recognize that some of the ways government data is gathered and analyzed today are no longer as accurate or reliable as they could be. Using surveys to understand employment trends is not as accurate as using payroll data. Similarly, the potential to predict crop yields with satellite or aircraft imagery, rather than by surveying farmers, promises to provide faster, more accurate projections.
Making data available to citizens quickly is also a pressing challenge. Projects like the Washington State dashboard demonstrate the potential of increased public transparency, and the president-elect has indicated an interest in making government more transparent to citizens.
The Center for Open Data Enterprise has published an Action Plan for the Next Administration, laying out 27 recommendations to help achieve greater transparency. Ideas range from hiring and empowering chief data officers at every federal agency to opening up data on some 45,000 license-free patents held by the U.S. government to spur business innovation and economic growth.
Look for the Trump administration to focus on data initiatives that yield improvements in intelligence, jobs creation and business efficiency first, with efforts focusing on transparency lagging well behind.
The Trump administration arrives in Washington promising change. For government technology, the early evidence points to a a change in philosophy, with results driving technology requirements rather than technology innovations promising to deliver potential results. The end goal, however, is unchanged: pragmatic and continued technology innovation as means for improving government for all.