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Ferenstein: White House Makes a Superb Tech Hire with Matt Lira

The White House has just hired one of the most effective and innovative political servants that I have known in all my years as a tech writer.

Recode’s Tony Romm reported earlier that Republican House Leader aide Matt Lira would join the White House to “serve as a special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives.” The White House has since confirmed the report to me.

While in Congress, Lira’s most recent accomplishment was spearheading a “Peace Corps for Programmers,” which was a Republican-backed bill that President Obama signed into law right before he left office. House Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Talent Act of 2016 created a permanent program to bring Silicon Valley’s top talent into temporary government posts to help with national priorities. The bill was motivated by the epic fail of the Obamacare website crash and the need to modernize the way government provides digital services to the public.

Regardless of whether readers think the government should be big or small, I think most Americans can agree that when the government does build something, it should work effectively, isn’t unnecessarily expensive, and is safe from hackers.

Quiet, wonky victories like this have made Lira a respected bridge between DC and Silicon Valley. His hiring is good news.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about whether the Trump administration could hire folks that were widely respected in the technology sector. Four months after the election, there’s only been maybe a handful of notable technologists to join the new government, such as legendary Google engineer Matt Cutts (who stepped up his existing role at the consultancy agency of the federal government, The United States Digital Service).

But, the early report of Lira’s hiring already has Trump critics tweeting praise.

“This is a rare good development at the WH,” tweeted John Lilly, a tech investor who had previously joined an open letter against Trump in the Summer of 2016.

There may be many things that tech and Trump just don’t agree on, such as immigration and free trade, but there are broadly bipartisan issues that most everyone agrees need attention: improving vocational education, helping safeguard the country from hackers, making government more transparent, and helping us tackle the problems of automated job loss.

Lira has an established track record of being a faithful public servant on tech issues. This hire bodes well for the Administration’s promise to bring innovative ideas into the White House. This hire is a win for America.

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