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What Will Happen to Obama’s Tech Startups in the Trump Era?

The U.S. Digital Service and 18F were designed to attract the country’s best tech talent and improve government-citizen relations online. Will the agencies survive under Trump?
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Photographer: Bloomberg

For much of his second term, Barack Obama has been incubating a presidential side project, courting civic-minded entrepreneurs and engineers from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to lend their talents to the federal government—which, despite spending $86 billion a year on information technology, often can’t deliver seemingly basic services. In 2012, he established the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, which pairs private-sector innovators with public officials in hopes of bringing Silicon Valley’s fast, flexible problem-solving style to Washington. Then, in 2014, after the embarrassing failed launch of healthcare.gov, he created the United States Digital Service, which sends techies to help other government agencies, as well as a skunkworks called 18F.

Not long after Donald Trump’s victory in November, a couple of prominent congressional leaders made a point of publicly supporting these startups. Two days after Election Day, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a Republican with deep relationships in Silicon Valley, tweeted, “We need to modernize government — programs like @18F and @USDS hold great potential for our country.” Twelve days later, the minority whip, Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, retweeted McCarthy, adding “I agree. Let’s keep it going.”