Obama's Final Act as President Saved a Tech Program

The effort is a little known program called the Presidential Innovation Fellows, which brings techie geniuses into the government for six months in an effort to upgrade the feds, digital-wise.

by Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / January 25, 2017

(TNS) -- Obama’s last act as president might surprise you.

And when we say last, we mean the very final thing he did before walking to the stage in front of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of his successor, Donald Trump.

And, whatever you think of newly minted ex-president, you might be pleased at what he did – if you’re a fan of technology and the idea that now and then the government should occasionally make use of the sharpest minds in the private sector.

It’s certainly not something that many people noticed in the midst of the transitional hubbub, the hoopla of ceremony and controversy, angry tweets and protesters in the streets.

But it’s a pretty good story.

As told by Fortune magazine’s Tory Newmyer, the tale begins with a little known program called the Presidential Innovation Fellows, which brings techie geniuses into the government for six months in an effort to upgrade the feds, digital-wise.

It’s not, pardon the expression, huuuge – just 100 people so far, according to Newmyer, buit it’s had some pretty important missions.

The super-smart boys and (presumably) girls of the program were the ones who fixed the healthcare portal after its botched launch.

It would have expired with the Obama presidency, except for the determined efforts of a guy named John Paul Farmer — Newmyer describes him as “a Harvard-schooled former minor league baseball player who’d hatched the program as a White House staffer.”

Farmer is now working for Microsoft.

The program was apparently low-profile enough so the incoming administration just did not have it on the radar at all. So the initiative would have died if he hadn’t convinced House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, to push a bill through Congress to extend the initiative.

On the evening before the inauguration, the bill was stuck with the House clerk, who had – for whatever reason – not sent it on to the president to be signed. The clerk had (insert sound of ticking clock here) left for the day.

“Farmer worked the phones until 1 a.m. but appeared to have hit a wall with the final hours of the Obama presidency slipping away,” Newmyer writes. (Tick, tick, tick).

Finally, the next morning, he managed to make contact with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office and whoever was left of the Obama staff. (Tick, tick….)

Farmer got them to work it out (five, four, three…) so that Obama could get the bill in the Capitol (two, one), just before he walked onto the platform for the swearing in of the new president. Obama signed the bill, his last official action as president, and a few moments later he was a private citizen.

“A lot of people thought we were out of time,” Farmer told Fortune. “I just didn’t want to quit, even though the odds were long.”

©2017 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.