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June 22 2017

Maybe Profit Motivates Tech Companies More than Politics

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Executives from some of the biggest companies are in Washington this week for Tech Week. This is a time to put aside differences, ignore activists demands to #resist President Trump, and put the good of their companies – and the nation – forward.

On Monday, the White House convened the first meeting of the American Technology Council to discuss how technology can be applied to modernizing government. In front of leaders like Apple's CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella, President Trump said at the outset:

“Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens, stronger protection from cyberattacks, which we were just discussing in the Oval Office with a little bit smaller group,” Trump said at the start of the meeting.

The Administration wants to tackle big gaps in technology advancement in the public sector including modernizing Air Traffic Control and standardizing electronic medical records between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.

On Tuesday, lobbyists from the tech groups met with Administration officials to discuss tax reform and lowering the corporate tax rates, including for revenue earned abroad and brought back to the U.S., which is a priority Silicon Valley has been pushing for years.

Today (Thursday), the meetings continued with a focus on scaling back regulations of emerging technologies like drones, attracting talent from non-tech hubs, and expanding broadband internet access across America – particularly rural America.

The tech big wigs had agendas of their own and one of the hot button issues was immigration. They expressed their concerns in private sessions with the President, but their tone is remarkably positive:

"I think there’s a general belief [among those in the meeting] that this can be resolved in an effective way," said VMware CEO Patrick Gelsinger, who was among the CEOs in attendance. "There was strong messaging from the president in this regard that he gets it," he continued, noting that the president wants to see this "get resolved."

These meeting have earned public praise from tech leaders overall. This is a departure from last year when this group was vocal in their opposition to and disappointment with a Trump presidency.

Google CEO published a rebuke of a potential travel ban, Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerbeg told developers that “instead of building walls, we can help people build bridges,” and there was the scathing open letter from 140 tech leaders opposing the Trump presidency. Some were more dramatic like Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist at the firm Sherpa Capital, who said “The horror, the horror... There were too many people in the tech industry who were complacent. They waited and waited and waited to get engaged in this election. And now we have this nightmare.” Others were left with few words like Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of the corporate messaging service Slack, who was just “heartbroken.”

What a difference a slew of executive orders, overturned regulations, and promises of lower taxes make. Perhaps Silicon Valley has come to grips with the new political realities. However, their bottom line is likely the biggest driver in their evolution on President Trump and that's not a bad thing.

Tech week follows Infrastructure Week and President Trump’s plans for an infrastructure bill this year that may include massive public investment in updating tech infrastructure. Two big topics at the tech summit were 5G wireless broadband expansion and the Internet of Things (IoT). There is also the prospect of a Republic-led Federal Communications Commission scaling back internet regulations passed under President Obama.

Tech companies will be affected one way or another, so they realize that they can’t afford to sit on the sidelines at the request of their employees.

Other groups would be wise to put aside their partisan differences to figure out how to advance smart policy solutions that benefit all Americans.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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