Inside the Oval Office, President Barack Obama has models of American inventions — like the telegraph — which he says serve as a “daily reminder of the genius embedded in our DNA” and represent the way “we’ve always shaped the future through our ideas and discovery.” As he nears the end of his presidency, Obama is turning his attention to spurring innovation within the federal government.
It’s for this reason that the president will be attending this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. In his weekly address, Obama explained that he’ll be asking “everyone for ideas and technologies to update our government and our democracy to be as modern and as dynamic as America itself.” He said that this has always been a goal of his, especially in light of the role technology played when he first ran for president in 2008: “We saw how technology could bring people together and help them engage as citizens in their communities. When I came to the White House, I wanted to apply that experience to the federal government.”
This will be the first time that any sitting president has attended SXSW. First Lady Michelle Obama will also be visiting Austin to deliver her own keynote address during the music portion of the festival. Earlier this week, it was announced that President Obama will participate in a fireside chat with Texas Tribune’s editor-in-chief Evan Smith to discuss civic engagement.
During his talk, Obama’s message will be to “keep asking everyone from all walks of life working inside and outside of government to help make this democracy even stronger.”
Over the past seven years, the Obama administration has reached out to not only Silicon Valley, but the technology industry at large for help in modernizing the U.S. government. In 2009, the president tapped Aneesh Chopra to be the country’s first chief technology officer and later brought former Google executive Megan Smith on board to head the department.
The White House has sought the assistance of other tech luminaries, including Twitter’s former general counsel and head of public policy, Alexander Macgillivray; Branch cofounder Josh Miller; and Google and Twitter veteran Jason Goldman. Last month, there were reports that the White House was looking for its first chief information security officer.
During Obama’s second term, he has accelerated his engagement with technology. In addition to establishing a Facebook page and posting ideas and policy proposals on services like Medium and Quora, the president hosted a technology demo day at the White House. He also established a tech hub in Silicon Valley, where the government plans to invest $171 million to work with Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, General Motors, and other companies on wearable devices.
But while Obama continues to talk about role of technology in civic engagement, espousing ideas similar to those held by Gov 2.0 and the OpenGov Foundation, he will also address serious cybersecurity issues, such as those raised by the case the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has brought against Apple over an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists.