What Will Become of White House Tech’s Juicebox Mafia?Posted: November 24, 2016
Obama-era techies weigh staying under Trump
An impassioned debate is raging among software engineers, designers and other techies as to whether they want to stay in Washington under Donald Trump.
While some high-ranking tech staffers in the federal ranks say they’re not going anywhere, others worry that staying could put them in a tough spot, especially if the new administration asks them to work on projects at odds with their values.
It’s “a brutal line for some of us to walk,” said one senior tech specialist in the federal government, who would only speak without being named. The specialist said staffers are caught between “serving the public in ways that are obviously still very much needed,” versus “serving a person — and a ‘regime’ — who, for some of us, is fundamentally disrespectful of our existence.”
“The arguments are really clear,” says Anil Dash, a New York City entrepreneur whose commentary is widely followed in the tech industry. “The one side is, ‘You came to serve and there’s still a need.’ The other is, ‘Do we legitimize this administration?'”
Dash says he has stopped recommending that people in tech join the U.S. Digital Service, but that he also sees little upside to those already on the federal payroll leaving now.
People open to staying include Rob Cook, a former Pixar executive who just three weeks ago began a three-year appointment as the head of the Technology Transformation Service, a branch of the General Services Administration created this summer to reinvent how the federal government buys and builds technology. “If it’s important, it’s important for all administrations,” Cook says.
Cook’s view that civil servants serve regardless of who occupies the Oval Office has its adherents. But among the rank and file in the federal tech service, conversations are swirling. They’re weighing whether those who joined the Obama administration to apply the thinking of the so-called civic tech movement — the idea that modern digital tools can create a government more responsive to citizens — would be guilty of aiding a president whose policies and politics many of them utterly oppose.
Obama created the Digital Service as what he called a tech “SWAT team” after being burned by the failed launch of HealthCare.gov. He has tapped that team of technology experts to execute some of his policy priorities, such as making it easier for would-be immigrants to the U.S. to track their applications online.
If workers were asked “to build the ‘database of Muslims,’ they’d probably leave en masse,” the tech specialist said. “But there’s also some more generalized angst about serving someone who disdains swaths of the public that include us.”
The official describes talking with one colleague “who’s Jewish and is outraged that [incoming White House chief of strategist Steve] Bannon will be steps from the Oval [Office] and frightened by all the anti-Semitism that’s been swirling since the campaign.”
Those post-election conversations among colleagues have been “mixed and pained,” the official said….(read more)