Not Working in the Trump Administration

I was asked by a reporter recently about whether I would have continued on in my job as part of the Trump Administration. I said no and for me it was not a difficult choice. I wanted to elaborate a bit on that here in case useful to others.


First though:


a) I have friends who made a different choice. Everyone's situation is different, everyone's potential job within an administration is different, and we all have our own ways of thinking about this issue. I believe that thinking about the moral and ethical implications of one’s work is important, as do all of the people that I have talked with who are staying. I would like to see more folks think about those implications, both in government and outside of government.


b) I am strongly supportive of the various indications I have heard about this Administration’s continuation of the Obama Administration’s agenda to improve government services by improving federal tech, and am optimistic about what might be done in that space with the support of the strong group of people who have offered to stay. The office of the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, the U.S. Digital Service, the Tech Transformation Service (including 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, and many other parts), the agency Digital Services teams, the offices of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Information Security Officer, Director of White House IT, agency CIOs, and the rest of the digital family in government still have a ton of work to do to make government more efficient and effective on behalf of all of us. I believe in a functioning government that is effective at delivering services for people. A thriving government digital family is essential for those efforts. And, that work has been supported by Republicans and Democrats. It was hugely supported by President Obama and there are indications that President Trump’s team is also supportive.

N.B. I feel the opposite way about President Trump’s tech policy agenda, see e.g. the rumblings about Net Neutrality.
c) I am fortunate to have many privileges others do not, including the privilege to choose where and with whom I work. Those are real privileges that not everyone has. I was born lucky and got to go to excellent schools and jobs over time, which led to connections, additional privileges, and more. I am white and male. Being able to make the decision not to take a job is a privilege that is unevenly distributed. Furthermore, in talking with some career civil servants, some feel the very idea of getting to choose which administration to work for is a form of spoiled entitlement.  There are people who have been quietly serving on behalf of the American people for 40 years. People who have made life better for Americans under Presidents that they disagreed with. These are many of the folks who were critical in explaining government to me and helping me use its tools during my tenure. If our entire civil service turned over every time the Presidency changed, our government would function significantly worse, if at all.


d) It is also unclear to me how much of an administration's policies people should consider when trying to ethically evaluate being a part of an administration. Clearly, I shouldn't be involved in something I believe to be ethically wrong. To what extent am I also responsible for what the other ~2.5 million government employees do? What about the President?


Anyhow, all of the above is just to reiterate that there are many reasons others have to choose to stay. I respect and thank those that have stayed. They have important work to do, and I admire them for doing it. But it is not the right decision for me.


I told the reporter I would not continue on as Deputy U.S. CTO  for a constellation of reasons.


1) First and foremost, my job as Deputy U.S. CTO was very connected to the President's agenda. That is one of the reasons people in those types of jobs historically tender their resignations before inauguration. It does not make much sense for the President's inner circle and the circles around them to be actively opposed to the core of the President's agenda. I strongly disagree with large swaths of President Trump's agenda (at least as far as I understand it).


2) I believe I can contribute to protecting the values I care about from President Trump’s agenda (see point (c) about privileges above). I think protecting those values is important, and I think I can do that more effectively outside of the federal government. These decisions about where to work and what to do are inherently political in part because of the opportunity cost of whatever decision one makes. Working in the office of the U.S. CTO is an incredible opportunity but comes at a cost of not being able to do other things.


3) I had the opportunity to serve in an incredible job for over two years. I tried to do as much as I could during that time. There is a lot more to do, even in areas of bipartisan agreement. I believe in fresh legs and the advantage of having new perspectives and energy on those issues.


4) My work-life balance hasn't always been great. It was time for more life in that balance.

These thoughts are a bit raw and draft but hopefully they can be helpful to others as they make their own decisions.

Working at the "White House"

A bunch of friends in Silicon Valley have asked some version of “what was surprising to you in government?” or “what did you learn about government?” This is one of a series of posts answering those questions.

Bo in front of the White House in the snow
Official White House photograph by Pete Souza


One of the confusing things people say in D.C. is that they “work at the White House.” That can mean one of a bunch of different, true things. Only a few are what you might expect.
  1. You work for the President at the White House. And by that I mean the building that is white, looks like a house, is where the first family live, and is pictured above in the snow behind Bo. There are a bunch of people who work in the actual house part of the White House and many others who are there for periods of time for their jobs, such as the Secret Service agents assigned to the house (the Secret Service agents have some of the hardest jobs and are in each of the spaces listed below as well).
  2. You work in the West Wing, which is attached to the thing that is an actual house. There are a bunch of offices of high ranking people and their staff who are part of the Executive Office of the President or Vice President, as well as White House Situation Room personnel and others in the West Wing of the White House.
  3. You work for the President or the First Lady in the East Wing (attached to the other side of the house).
  4. You work elsewhere on the complex, perhaps for the Executive Office of the President or the Vice President. The majority of these people actually work in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is an incredible building but neither white, nor a house. Up until a few weeks ago, I worked in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer within the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President and was physically located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
  5. You work elsewhere as part of the Executive Office of the President (or VP). Many of these folks are in the New Executive Office Building. And, while the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is technically part of the Executive Office of the President, I don’t know whether USTR people say that they work at the White House.

The above are all “true” as far as D.C. is concerned.

There are also a lot of people who say they work at the White House but are just lying.

Councils and Policy

A bunch of friends in Silicon Valley have asked some version of “what was surprising to you in government?” or “what did you learn about government?” This is the first of a series of posts answering those questions.

Most policy within the Obama White House was decided through policy councils, and their Principals, Deputies, and Interagency Committees. These are both specific groups of people (similar to Boards of Directors at companies) and also can be departments that are staffed within the White House (similar to business units within companies). What each council decides and the membership of the various councils are important determinants of the quality of decisions and what policy can be advanced. This post gives some background about a non-exhaustive list of policy councils, their jurisdiction, and their membership with a focus on those relevant to tech policy.


One important note is that the Obama administration found it useful to ensure that tech and scientific expertise had its own council-like apparatus and had seats at each of the other policy making tables so that policy decisions could be informed by the latest technical and scientific innovations. The Trump administration has signaled that it also believes that tech is important to effective governance and now is the time that administrations typically begin to formalize how they make decisions as well as the jurisdiction, membership, and attendees of their various councils (indeed the President Trump just did so for the National Security Council -- see this earlier post for more on the changes and why they are bad). Inside and outside of the administration it is important to understand these powerful policy levers and structure them to be most effective. Today, given the importance of technology and science to policymaking of all types, that means including technical and scientific expertise at each of these tables.


National Security Council
President Truman established the National Security Council (NSC) in 1947, and it is enshrined in law as part of the National Security chapter of Title 50. Its function is to:
“advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.”
It is led by the President of the United States or their delegate and must include the Vice President and Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy but it can include others either at all meetings or only when germane. President Obama gave direction as to its jurisdiction, decision making processes, and membership in his first Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-1) published less than a month after his inauguration. Reading PPD-1 gives a good sense of how policy councils operate, with principals, deputies, and interagency committees all working to produce policy decisions.


NSC was the most important and largest of the councils during my time in government. Its staff were experts at running effective process and went on to become important members of the Office of the Chief of Staff, including the Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough; his advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President, Natalie Quillian; and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation and Assistant to the President, Kristie Canegallo.  Getting a seat for an NSC decision meeting on an important topic could be difficult as NSC staff tried to keep the decision making tight. However, being there was extremely important and, depending on the decision, getting tech expertise in the room could be the difference between making one decision and another.


President Obama convenes the NSC in the White House Situation Room
Official White House Photograph by Pete Souza

National Economic Council
The National Economic Council (NEC) was created by President Clinton and enshrined by an Executive Order in 1993. Its remit is to:
“(1) to coordinate the economic policy-making process with respect to domestic and international economic issues; (2) to coordinate economic policy advice to the President; (3) to ensure that economic policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals, and to ensure that those goals are being effectively pursued; and (4) to monitor implementation of the President’s economic policy agenda”
It is led by the President of the United States or their delegate and includes the Vice President a wide range of agency heads, leads of White House components, and Assistants to the President. President Obama expanded its membership to add more members, including the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.


Domestic Policy Council
The Domestic Policy Council (DPC) existed as a counterpart to the NSC focused on domestic policy generally until the NEC was formed to deal with economic issues, which created the narrower modern DPC through Executive Order. Its functions are:
“(1) to coordinate the domestic policy-making process; (2) to coordinate domestic policy advice to the President; (3) to ensure that domestic policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals, and to ensure that those goals are being effectively pursued; and (4) to monitor implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda.”
It is led by the President of the United States or their delegate and includes the Vice President a wide range of agency heads, leads of White House components, and Assistants to the President. President Obama also modernized the makeup of the DPC, including adding the U.S. Chief Technology Officer to its membership.


National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council planning meeting in the Roosevelt Room
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza



National Science and Technology Council
The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) was created by President Clinton in 1993 through Executive Order as a policymaking body for Science and Technology policy. Its functions are:
(1) to coordinate the science and technology policymaking process; (2) to ensure science and technology policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals; (3) to help integrate the President’s science and technology policy agenda across the Federal Government; (4) to ensure science and technology are considered in development and implementation of Federal policies and programs; and (5) to further international cooperation in science and technology.
It is led by the President of the United States or their delegate and includes the Vice President a wide range of agency heads, leads of White House components, and Assistants to the President. President Bush added the Secretary of Homeland Security. NSTC was active during the Obama administration under the leadership of the President’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren.


Tech Policy Task Force
The Tech Policy Task Force (TPTF) is a Executive Office of the President (EOP) policymaking body formed during the Obama Administration to develop tech policy and advise other policy councils. It is chaired by the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and its membership includes the leadership of each of the technology components within the EOP (e.g., the Federal Chief Information Officer, the U.S. Digital Service Administrator, etc.) as well as representatives from each of the other policy councils. In contrast to other councils, more than half of TPTF membership is drawn from tech components.
TPTF’s work in the Obama Administration included public policy that is tech focused, such as Artificial Intelligence policy, and policy in which tech plays a role, such as consumer privacy or national security declassification. TPTF has been used to create tech-related policy, such as the Federal Source Code Policy; to enable and engage in a policy discussion in another policy council; to advise and assist with agency efforts, such as international connectivity with the State
Department; and to answer questions raised by the President’s senior advisors and other EOP
leadership, such as with respect to cybersecurity and the Cybersecurity National Action Plan.
TPTF, in turn, has been leveraged in the policymaking efforts of other policy councils, such as
the NSC, to enhance their work with tech expertise.


For More Information
Abramson, Mark; Wagner, Martin; Breul, Jonathan; Kamensky, John; and Chenok, Daniel editors, Getting It Done A Guide for Government Executives, Revised Edition, Rowan & Littlefield (2013) (See Chapter 8 for a detailed description of policy councils).
Sargent, John & Shea, Dana, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): History and Overview, Congressional Research Service (2016) (providing an overview of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NSTC, and the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology).

N.B. This post was mostly written before President Trump’s NSC organizing Memorandum last Saturday which caused me to write a summary of the bad changes he made to the NSC that duplicates some language from this one.

Update 1/31/17: This post was updated to make the relationship between Councils and Principals, Deputies, and Interagency Committees more clear.

Change to the National Security Council Backgrounder

On January 28 President Trump issued a memorandum organizing his National Security Council. That was a big deal. This post tries to explain why to a wider audience. But first, here is what the generally reserved former National Security Advisor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said about it:
The memo is a big deal. Here’s why, but first a bit of background.


Background


Certain structures for decision making in the White House are called policy councils. There are many policy councils, each covering different types of policy, such as domestic, economic, or national security. Policy councils are both specific groups of people (similar to Boards of Directors or Advisers at companies) and also can be departments that are staffed within the White House (similar to business units within companies). What each council decides and the membership of the various councils are important determinants of the quality of decisions and what policy can be advanced.


The National Security Council (NSC) is the most important of the councils. Its purpose according its enabling legislation is to:
“advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.”
By statute, it is led by the President of the United States, or their delegate, and must include the Vice President and Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy but it can include others either at all meetings or only when germane. President Obama gave direction as to its jurisdiction, decision making processes, and membership in his first Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-1) published less than a month after his inauguration. Reading PPD-1 gives a good sense of how policy councils operate, with principals, deputies, and interagency committees all working to produce policy decisions.


During the Obama Administration, the NSC was extremely important to the vast majority of policy decisions. Its staff were experts at running effective process and went on to become important members of the Office of the Chief of Staff, including the Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough; his advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President, Natalie Quillian; and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation and Assistant to the President, Kristie Canegallo.  Getting a seat for an NSC decision meeting on an important topic could be difficult as NSC staff tried to keep the decision making tight. However, being there was extremely important and, depending on the decision, getting specific expertise in the room could be the difference between making one decision and another. Techies in government argued strongly for tech expertise to be represented, but that will be the subject of another post with more background about other councils.


What Happened


On Saturday, January 28, President Trump, issued National Security Presidential Memorandum 2 to set up the way the NSC would work. It is normal for a new President to issue this type of memo to detail how their NSC will work. However, President Trump made one important change that I think is massive and not good. He put his political strategist, Steve Bannon on the NSC. That gives politics a literal seat at the table when the U.S. government is making decisions about national security. Worse yet, it gives a person who puts other concerns over national security a way to influence every NSC decision. That is extremely bad both in terms of the substance and optics of those decisions.


For other takes on the decision, including whether or not changes involving the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence are a big deal, see: Lawfare (which I think correctly downplays those changes and gives some description of other more minor changes), The Atlantic, and Ambassador Rice’s twitter.


Finally, it is important to note that some policy bypasses the NSC entirely. This is reportedly what happened with the immoral, illegal, and extremely poorly drafted Immigration Executive Order (for more on that, see Benjamin Wittes). No amount of proper NSC structure can protect us from that.


A sign saying "Don't think we don't see this shit you're pulling with the National Security Council"
From the LAX demonstration against the Immigration Order




How to Make a 3D Printed Percy Jackson Coin

Guest post by my son below. 


1) Decide what you want to make, and decide how you're going to make it. 

I decided to make a coin with a trident on the front and a lightning bolt on the back with the gods names on it.





2) Discover Tinkercad.com and take lessons for 3D printing at the public library for the basics of learning how to print.


3)In Tinkercad, go to “search” and type in the thing you want then right click “design” and press “save”.


So,I searched for a trident and a lightning bolt and pressed “save” on both of them.



4)To get the words on, go to the right side and scroll down and get the letters and put them in a random spot to spell the word. For example: “Poseidon” and “Zeus”. Then grab the side (it’s black) and press shift at the same time and drag in to make the letters smaller.

5)I had the coin from search and I got the words and went to “design” and right clicked it and pressed “paste” in a random space and the lightning bolt appeared and I put everything together. But I might of had to raise some stuff to get it higher on the coin so it would show.



6) I went to the library and printed it.

7) I spray-painted the coins in silver.


 

Mike Minnes

Always great when you discover a friends and family doing cool stuff online. Mike is my older cousin and someone I've looked up to from when I was little and still do today.
Yesterday I stumbled on his blog. He also has a Twitter handle.
Check them both out:
Mike Minnes's blog called Path Forward
Mike Minnes on Twitter

Twitter Book Maker

Finally got around to finishing a script that will take a Twitter Archive and turn it into a set of images suitable for printing as a photo book. This takes a tweet like this one:


and turns it into an image like this one:

Or a tweet like this one:


would become an image like this one:



I wrote it for tweets that have single images with no other links. It works best if the account doesn't have a lot of RTs, @replies or links as those don't really translate well to a photo book.

If the script gets a tweet with no image, it will represent the text as an image. So a tweet like this one:

looks like this:
 And, I did end up using the Blurb Books 7x7" format which worked pretty well.

Thank you to @Dr.Drang, who wrote Completing my Twitter Archive which is a helpful post and I used some of his code.

The TwitterBookImages script is:

How To Make A Glowing Lightsaber

Guest post by my son below. Please note that this how-to involves putting lights inside of foam, which is likely to be a fire hazard if left on. 

DO NOT LEAVE ONE OF THESE ON UNATTENDED!

Here is all the stuff you’ll need:
  1. a string of LED lights
  2. duct tape
  3. black electrical tape
  4. scissors
  5. a knife

IMG_20151024_154715.jpg

First, I cut the noodle in half.
IMG_20151024_154846.jpg

I did three layers of duct tape.
IMG_20151024_155342.jpg

Then I put on 6 strips of black tape.
IMG_20151024_155925.jpg

Then I cut the inside of the pool noodle.
IMG_20151024_160421.jpg

Then I folded the lights 3 times.  
IMG_20151024_160628.jpg

Then I put the lights in with the switch on the bottom.
IMG_20151024_161014.jpg

This is what it looks like in action.
IMG_20151024_161137~2.jpg

If you have a small cell phone, you can put it in too to make lightsaber sounds.

AGAIN: DO NOT LEAVE ONE OF THESE ON UNATTENDED!