At the height of the financial crisis, the White House frequently found itself turning to veterans of Goldman Sachs to tackle the emergency, leading to the firm’s nickname: Government Sachs. Of course this was no accident, as then-US Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. was a Goldman alum.
Now, with the spectacular initial failure of the healthcare.gov website having focused the White House’s attention on technology issues, the Obama administration is looking to another pool of private-sector talent—Google’s—for people willing to bring their professional expertise to new jobs with the government.
Megan Smith, a Google executive, is said to be the White House’s top candidate to serve as the country’s chief technology officer, replacing Todd Park, who has a healthcare information technology background and will work for the administration as an adviser based in Silicon Valley. Park recently helped bring another Google veteran, Michael “Mikey” Dickerson, to a new area of the executive branch, the US Digital Service.
Google’s expanding diaspora in Washington has sparked growing concerns about the company’s influence with government officials. Just as the Treasury Department’s actions in 2008 had implications for Goldman Sachs, many of the questions before federal agencies and lawmakers today, from net neutrality rules to the potential for regulating drone deliveries and self-driving cars, could be significant to Google’s businesses. Some of the ex-Googlers hired by the White House already have returned to the private sector; that’s understandable—not every recruit, especially those who left families behind in Silicon Valley, wants to make a lifelong commitment to Washington, or to the government’s pay scale—but the revolving door action makes critics all the more skeptical about the relationships between companies and federal offices.
She’s not part of the White House yet, but Smith would be the third person—and first woman to hold the title of US chief technology officer if she gets the job. Her ascension would represent a major milestone for women in the tech industry. Back at Google, Smith is vice president of Google’s X lab and played a key role in the development of Google Earth. Previously, she was the CEO of Planet Out, an online media company catering to gay and lesbian audiences.
Michael “Mikey” Dickerson
Dickerson—currently the administrator of the new US Digital Service—was pulled into public service when healthcare.gov, an integral piece of the Obamacare health insurance system, ran into trouble. At Google, Dickerson was a site reliability engineer and part of the team that helped Google’s servers run smoothly. His task now: work with the federal government’s IT teams to improve the functionality of government websites. He’s already made waves for turning the West Wing into a business casual zone. Administration officials probably don’t care what he’s wearing to the office so long as he prevents another healthcare.gov-style embarrassment from occurring.
Katie Jacobs Stanton
Before being lured back to the private sector in 2010 for a job at Twitter, Stanton was part of the White House staff as director of citizen participation, tasked with furthering engagement with the public through new media. (She then spent seven months at the State Department before going to Twitter, where she recently changed roles from vice president of international markets to VP of global media.) At Google, she managed products like Google Finance, Google News, and Blog Search, and was involved in new business development. Stanton helped develop Google Moderator, which allowed users to submit questions for the presidential debates when Obama was running in 2008. Stanton’s resume also includes a stop at Yahoo, and a fellowship at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
McLaughlin, formerly Google’s head of global public policy, worked on Obama’s transition team in 2008 and 2009 and spent two years as the administration’s deputy chief technology officer. He advised the president on a wide range of topics, from cybersecurity and online privacy to entrepreneurship and the creation of open technology standards. In 2010, he was reprimanded for exchanging emails with former colleagues still at Google to discuss issues under his purview as a government official, in violation of the administration’s ethics rules. He left the White House the next year; now he’s a partner at the startup studio betaworks and is the CEO of Digg.
Although Wong (nicknamed “The Decider“) apparently has decided to leave the White House to return to her family in California, her background in internet law and privacy issues made her a strong pick as the administration’s deputy chief technology officer amid growing public concern over government data collection. Formerly the legal director at Twitter, she helped author a White House report on big data (pdf), which was released in May, and worked on policies regarding privacy and US intelligence. Not only was Wong a vice president at Google, she was deputy general counsel for the company, and testified before Congress (pdf) about Google’s adherence to privacy laws.
The former head of global development at Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, Shah served in the White House from April 2009 to August 2011 as head of the Office of Social Innovation, aiding nonprofits and entrepreneurs in tackling important social issues. Now she’s at Georgetown University, with the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation. Prior to working at Google, she was a VP at Goldman Sachs.
While Google’s chairman and CEO, Eric Schmidt, doesn’t have a formal position in the White House, he was a strong supporter of Obama’s in 2008 and his ties with the administration remain strong. He reportedly advised Obama’s 2008 campaign in the areas of tech and energy and was on hand again as an informal adviser during the 2012 race.