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Balancing Hope & Fear: The Role of Tech in the Trump White House

On the night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Jen Pahlka and Tim O’Reilly headlined our seventh What’s Now: San Francisco event. At a time when many Bay Area residents are worried about the undoing of President Obama’s legacy, Jen and Tim emphasized the importance of public service divorced from politics. They shared many examples of the important work techies have done in government in recent years, including saving the disaster that was healthcare.gov. Tim emphasized the idea that “politics and government are not actually the same thing,” and discussed the problem with viewing government as a vending machine that takes tax money and spits out services (and can be fixed by a vigorous shaking).

Tim and Jen described themselves as Eeyore and Tigger, respectively, when it comes to all the work that has yet to be done to upgrade and improve government IT. According to Tim, this work involves changing both the incentives and the business models. Jen, who helped found the U.S. Digital Service during her time as Deputy CTO, is confident that public servants won’t jump ship because of Trump. “There is no diminishment in the enthusiasm of tech people to serve the American public,” Jen says. Tim talked about the importance of having both hope and fear during this time, and why we should be focusing on building capacity rather than spending our time worrying.

We passed along a few links to those who attended the event, but if you missed it, here’s a government job board curated by Code for America and a blog post from Jen about procurement under Trump. We also wanted to highlight a few insightful articles about the event. From Gov Tech: “There was a duality to the talk, as Pahlka, O’Reilly, and the tech and government workers in the audience oscillated between hope and fear: fear that Trump would use tech advancements to orchestrate promises made during his inflammatory campaign, and hope that the work started by civic-minded technologists under Obama would continue to progress, fostering better services for more people.” Read the full piece here.

And from SmartUp: “Pahlka and O’Reilly pointed to success stories illustrating how small, agile teams have worked against the prevailing culture of federal bureaucracy characterized by legacy code, obstructive protocols, and byzantine rules for contractors requiring the submission of extensive RFPs. Smaller teams, they explained, can not only create highly functional applications, but can even create new ways to govern.” Read more here.