Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Omidyar Network via AP Images

Megan Smith and Alex Macgillivray left Google and Twitter, respectively, in 2014 to help President Obama and the U.S. government better harness the power of data and technology. Smith as the nation's second chief technology officer, and Macgillivray as her deputy. The pair were charged with helping to bring a Silicon Valley mentality to D.C., focused on areas like collaboration (on tech topics and beyond), modernizing government and capacity-building in areas like tech hiring and computer science education expansion.

The relatively-new positions are expected to outlast both Smith and Macgillivray, although the incoming Trump Administration has yet to name any replacements for top jobs in the White House's Office of Science and Technology (where the CTO office resides).

They both spoke to Axios about their experiences, the future and why even anti-Trump techies should consider a role in D.C. Their answers are condensed for quicker reading.

On coming into government from the private sector:

Smith: "The CTO team was added by President Obama to bring the entrepreneur or disruptor way of thinking about things to government. Not instead of, but additional methods. The thing I was a little afraid of was that I wasn't a policy expert. What I found was that there is so much talent in government with people who know their stuff, but what was missing was a principal-level technologist in each of the rooms, outside of places like NASA and DARPA and the NIH.

Macgillivray: "I realized that all of the skills that are useful in the private sector are useful here. People who want a direct answer. People who have done the reading. Be kind, know your stuff. I also learned how amazing and important the different people with the title 'Chief of Staff' are. It's not something we have in Silicon Valley. It makes sense that Sheryl Sandberg was a chief of staff at Treasury before she went to Google."

On accomplishments:

Smith: "One big thing that's different than our time in Silicon Valley is that we weren't shipping product. Our job was to catalyze new capabilities that the government could have. For example, TechHire is now part of 70 communities, which means that short-course boot camps are now a real thing and people are graduating in places like Eastern Kentucky and Anchorage, Alaska. Companies are starving for people with these skills. We also had opportunities to work on things that weren't exactly in our lane, like how to improve internal and external communications in the White House, like by launching @POTUS."

Macgillivray: "For me it was our creation of a tech policy task force that really changed how the White House was able to do policy, plus working on open-source policy and kickstarting the AI strategy. And more simple things like making sure the White House had good access to the Internet."

WHAT?!?!

Macgillivray: "Well, it had access, but there was a firewall policy that restricted the type of sites you were going to see. It was important to get the White House access to the modern Internet."

On their place in history:

Smith: "With every administration, the world is moving. During the time of Lincoln, the Pony Express got disrupted by the telegraph. President Washington founded the Army Corps of Engineers before he was even in office. Kennedy had the Moonshot program. President Obama has done an extraordinary amount of work, including through us, around science and technology, including R&D. This is the beginning of digital, collaborative and data-driven government.

For example, we're part of an open government partnership that started with eight countries but is now over 70. I was recently in a palace in France with 300 digital tech folks from 70-plus countries uploading open-source and working collaboratively on this sector. This is just like 1996 or 1997, but not quite as visible."

On AI and automation:

Macgillivray: "The President has a great line where he talks about how Americans have never been afraid of the future, and that's a lot of what I think defines how we think about this."

Smith: "President Obama pushed hard that we have this conversation, because we all have to go through this change together. One thing we did was a series of town halls led by Ed Felton and Terah Lyons on AI and machine learning, through which something that emerged was what the World Bank refers to as digital dividends. In other words, make sure that you're not just doing high-tech data science on NASA and self-driving cars. But also on more intractable problems like ones faced by HUD and Labor, and being sure that they are modernizing their service delivery.

Another big piece of this is making sure that we improve the skills of all Americans, which is something the country did as it shifted from the agricultural age to the industrial age, and now must do as we shift to the age of creativity. The fastest way we've learned to work on this is to operate more like venture capitalists, who build cohorts by sharing best practices and networks. The same network we can use to help upgrade the Agriculture Department can be used to build maker spaces and can also apply to topics like learning and inclusion. The more we do next-generation high schools, the more people will be prepared to participate in the creative economy. The truth is that everybody has always been quite capable if they have access to learning new skills.

Tech takeaway:

Smith: "I now have much more impatience with the lack of diversity in tech, whether that be geo, race or gender. This team is very diverse and is at the top of its game. We'll be much better served if tech and other government teams become more diverse, because all of the research shows that diverse teams make better decisions."

On fears the Trump Administration won't continue their work:

Macgillivray: "I remember when I used my first smartphone. I wasn't an early adopter and couldn't understand why people like the thing. But it's not like I went back to a flip-phone. I think the same is true when it comes to technology in government. We aren't going to go backwards, and technology is really nonpartisan."

Smith: "Practice makes permanent. It can be hard to integrate some of this stuff but, when we're able to get into a department and help upgrade their work, they're delighted."

Should techies join government, even if they opposed Trump?

Smith: "We wrote a post we refer to as Techies Engage, because we really believe it. It doesn't matter if it's at the state or federal or tribal level. America needs the tech community, and now more than ever."

Go deeper

2 mins ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!