Last Friday would have been a normal day for me at the office, except only a few days earlier I received an invitation to The White House (read how that happened here). Having been invited to the third official White House Tweetup, I didn't know what to expect when I showed up on Friday morning. Was this going to be like some of the blown-out tweetups with 100+ people or a small (10-20 people) and intimate group. To my pleasant surprise it was the later: we counted about 12 or so of us total. By that time I knew we were going to be part of something special and very exclusive. You'll hear me repeat this again but I was blown away at the consummate professionalism, punctuality, and thorough communication from the White House staff. (Not just anyone gets to work at The White House, after all.)
First up: The Tour
Anyone can get a tour of The White House through their Congressman or other officials. I've heard wait times can be quite high and you have to make your way to Washington, DC, to get a tour. Well, we were bumped right to the top of that list and given access to the full self-guided White House tour upon our arrival. As an added bonus we had our wonderful host, Kori Schulman from the White House New Media team, on hand to guide us through the tour. If you have never been on a tour it's well worth your time. Even without a host there are countless uniformed Secret Service officers on hand who are very friendly and a wealth of knowledge on the history and nuances of The White House. The tour consists of the East Wing and the Mansion itself (sorry, no West Wing access).
(Thanks @kellyanncollins for taking this pic!)
Meeting with Macon Phillips (@Macon44), White House Director of Digital Strategy
Our first official meeting of the day in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) was with Macon Phillips to learn about the overall strategies the White House is employing in social media. Our discussion was centered around the three digital media strategies the White House employs:
- Amplify the President's message.
- Make The White House accessible.
- Increase participation in government.
The most fascinating thing we learned at this meeting? Of the small handful of people who manage the @WhiteHouse Twitter account, there is no approval process to post tweets! That's right, the President has empowered his digital communications team with the authority to post what they need in real-time without going through unnecessary hoops. If the President of the United States trusts his team to manage the online identities for the most powerful office in the world, then why wouldn't your business or organization follow suit? I witnessed this several times during the day as tweets were posted by White House staff, including this one from a staffer's iPhone!
Meeting with Aneesh Chopra (@aneeshchopra), U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to President Obama for Technology within the Office of Science & Technology Policy
After our lunch break we settled into another conference room at EEOB and moments later Aneesh Chopra appeared for our scheduled meeting. I was personally excited to meet Mr. Chopra since we have many friends in common in my local business community (from his days as Virginia's Secretary of Technology). We learned a lot in a short amount of time from the nation's CTO, so much so that I didn't even have time to take a picture! Here are some of the highlights:
- The White House is committed to supporting "High Growth Startups" by modernizing and simplifying rules created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and SEC to include better support for "crowd funding."
- There is a major push for Internet-ready classrooms and broadband across the country. The National Wireless Innovation & Infrastructure initiative is getting a renewed focus to accelerate next generation wireless Internet access to all parts of America.
- The nation's CTO and CIO have been ordered by the President to launch the BusinessUSA platform within the next 90 days. The program is designed to provide a portal with one-stop access to all of the essential resources entrepreneurs need to interface with the federal government.
- The White House is committed to focusing on open innovation as an "impatient convener" to step in where needed to effect progress with science and technology.
Preview of the new "We The People" petition tool coming to the White House website
I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of this new tool yet (probably because it hasn't been released yet) but it looks very compelling. In this age of "e-Government" and breaking down the barriers between citizens and elected officials it can sometimes be difficult to get the attention of the right people. The forthcoming "We The People" product is an online petition tool designed to do just that: break down the barrier and get you right to the top. The concept is really simple: you create an online petition based around an issue that's important to you. From there you can broadcast to all of your friends and contacts via social networks, email, etc., and gather signatures (online, of course). Once you reach 5000 signatures in the first 30 days you are guaranteed a response from a White House official. We were told most issues that met the threshold would be routed to the appropriate policy officials for follow-up at that point.
So stay tuned and check it out when "We The People" goes live!
Grand finale: Meeting with White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney (@PressSec)
As if we weren't already having an awesome time at #WHTweetup our demo of We The People was cut off and we were told to gather quickly for the trip to The West Wing. A few elevators and staircases later and we were in the heart of the White House executive offices. As we entered Mr. Carney's office he quickly admonished my calling him "sir" and we knew this would be a light hearted and informal briefing. We were also joined by Brian Deese, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, who could answer more of our technical questions on the proposed American Jobs Act (state by state impacts here). The entire premise of our meeting with the Press Secretary (and our entire day overall) was to serve as a follow-up to the President's speech to a Joint Session of Congress the night before (Thursday, September 8, 2011). Of course as soon as I received my invite I polled my business and Twitter contacts/followers for their questions about the speech and the employment market in general. Thankfully I had received some great questions (along with some of my own) so I was elated as we learned we'd be meeting with the Press Secretary to get a chance to have those questions answered. Not knowing if we'd be joined by hundreds others or a small intimate group (like we ended up with), I came prepared nonetheless.
Keeping with tradition the person sitting generally where the AP sits got the first question. We continued around the room with a range of very good questions with everything from whether the American Jobs Act has a chance of passing to bantering over the lack of a Foursquare venue for the Press Secretary's office (@JustinHerman from our group challenged Mr. Carney to the mayorship for his own office). I was able to ask a compiled question from myself and my contacts really digging into the specifics of the proposed tax credits, incentives, and other aspects of the jobs bill. I was also concerned (as were many of my contacts) about continued strains on the liquidity market. Here's what I learned:
- There are various tax credits that will be available effective upon signing of the American Jobs Act. They consist of:
- $4000 credit for hiring anyone who has been unemployed for six (6) months or longer.
- $5600 credit for hiring an unemployed veteran.
- $9600 credit for hiring a disabled unemployed veteran.
- The portion of payroll taxes currently at 6.2% will be cut immediately to 3.1% for next year (on the first $5 million in wages in a company).
- Increases in payroll won't be subject to payroll taxes. This is a great incentive to give employees a raise and it applies to any taxable wage or benefit.
- Discrimination against currently unemployed persons will be prohibited. We learned that a lot of employers will just overlook anyone currently unemployed in favor or someone changing jobs.
- The SBA has seen an increase in lending and there will be a renewed focus to shift those lending dollars and capacity for construction jobs and projects (in line with the President's push for infrastructure improvements). This will include an increase on SBA bond guarantees as well.
- The combination of tax credits, SBA increasing guarantees, and government spending on major infrastructure projects ($50 billion will be sent to localities right away at signing) should help to increase liquidity, especially for small businesses.
Overall the White House is looking to employ a few very specific incentives targeted almost exclusively for small businesses (in this context those with a wage base of $5 million or less). I was pleased with what I saw in the proposed jobs bill and feel it gives some short-term stimulus to perhaps take some more risks and speed hiring decisions or capital improvements. We learned that a lot of the incentives passed into law in prior years, currently at risk of expiring, should be renewed as well.
All in all it certainly appears the White House is paying attention to the specific needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs. They are really trying hard to create a better environment to restore confidence, provide access to capital in many ways, and ease regulation and red tape. Having the chance to see the inner workings of our Executive Branch of government gives me renewed confidence in the great country we call home. It was all made possible thanks to a team of very progressive, creative, and consummate professionals at the White House Office of Digital Strategy and New Media, including our amazing host Kori Schulman (thanks Kori!). Stay on the lookout for future White House Tweetups by following The White House twitter account at @WhiteHouse (rumor is there may be a really, really cool Tweetup being planned involving the First Lady!).
"Let's Make Jobs!"
As a small group of us exited the White House grounds we felt a wave of responsibility to put our new knowledge and connections to use. One of us summed it up in three simple words: "Let's Make Jobs!" While we all laughed at the spontaneity of it, I couldn't help but feel empowered and confident in our ability to work through these interesting economic times backed by the nation's Chief Executive himself thanks to #WHTweetup.