The US White House today will name Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, the head of a new “White House Office of American Innovation,” according to the Washington Post (paywall). The aim is to use technology and data to fight bureaucracy, and to bring new ideas into government.
Kushner and the group will study whether the processes and the technology the government is using are “servicing the American people,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said a press conference, and ask “Is there a better way?”
Kushner, 36, took over his father’s real-estate business just out of graduate school, after his father was jailed for fraud, and has never worked in a startup company, or for a technology firm. (His brother Joshua founded a venture capital firm that invests in tech.) This is just the latest high-profile, challenging role he has been elevated to in the Donald Trump administration, despite having no previous government experience.
Kushner was accepted to Harvard University despite a less-than-stellar academic record, after his father donated $2.5 million to the school, and majored in government there, then got a law degree and MBA from New York University. After he bought New York’s gossipy, money-losing broadsheet, The Observer, the paper went through four editors-in-chief (paywall) in five years, and most of the staff quit.
He grew Kushner Companies from 80 to 750 employees after he took over, and bought thousands of properties in New York, but the company’s biggest deal, the 666 Fifth Ave office tower, has struggled. Kushner reportedly talked with a Chinese company with government connections about investing in the building a week after Trump was elected, raising conflict-of-interest concerns (paywall). He will be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about his meeting with the head of Russia’s Vnesheconombank in December, part of an investigation into Russia’s role in the last US election.
Here’s what Kushner is tasked with in the Trump administration.
Disrupting government. Among other things, the new innovation office plans to “modernize the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency,” says the Washington Post, and fix the US’s opioid crisis. Executives like Apple’s Tim Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk will be tapped for advice.
Top-secret security issues. Kushner is one of just a handful of people in the White House, besides Trump, to receive the “Presidential Daily Brief,” which the CIA describes as the “highest level intelligence analysis targeted at the key national security issues.”
US-China relations. Chinese president Xi Jinping is expected to travel to the US shortly for what will be the most important official visit so far of the Trump presidency, and Kushner is “heavily involved” in the planning, a senior White House official told the New York Times (paywall). Kushner reportedly brokered a peace-making phone call in February between the leaders of the world’s two most powerful nations, in which Trump recognized the “One China” policy—a reversal from his antagonistic position earlier. Kushner also accompanied Trump when he met with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in February.
Keeping the peace with Mexico. Kushner showed Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray a copy of Trump’s border wall speech in January before it was delivered, and when Videgaray came to Washington this month he met with Kushner, cutting out the State Department entirely.
Brokering a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Trump lauded Kushner at a dinner the night before his inauguration, saying “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” That seems to have been more than just an empty toast: Kushner has been in regular contact with Arab diplomats, and was prominently involved in the White House visit of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a family friend.