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Trump Son-in-law to Lead New White House 'Office of American Innovation'


U.S. President Donald Trump is putting his son-in-law in charge of an effort to make the federal government run more like an efficient business.

Jared Kushner, a second-generation real estate investor who is married to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is to lead the new White House Office of American Innovation.

At Monday's daily White House briefing, the press secretary brushed off questions about whether the 36-year-old Kushner, a newcomer to government, is qualified to lead the transformation.

Middle East

Other weighty matters already are assigned to Kushner, including the Middle East peace process and being his father-in-law's lead advisor on countries such as China and Mexico.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, March 24, 2017. Spicer said Monday the new office Jared Kushner is to head is important and noted "outdated and unmodernized" departmen
White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, March 24, 2017. Spicer said Monday the new office Jared Kushner is to head is important and noted "outdated and unmodernized" departmen

Sean Spicer said this, too, is important.

"If you've ever really dealt with the government and recognized how outdated and unmodernized some of this is, it is not serving the American people. It is not serving the constituents that many departments have," Spicer told reporters. "And I think looking at how we can procure different things, and how we procure technology in particular is important."

The office is to be staffed with former business executives operating out of the West Wing, according to White House officials.

Two White House senior aides are set to be the office's key personnel -- a former Microsoft and General Motors executive, Chris Liddell, and real estate developer Reed Cordish, whose family is close to the Trumps.

Others on team

Also on the team are National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who is a former Goldman Sachs executive, and Dina Habib Powell, recently named as deputy national security advisor. She is also a senior counselor to the president.

The challenges are dramatic, professor Stephen Goldsmith, of Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said.

"You have bureaucratic issues and congressional issues and complexity issues, but having an innovation effort driven at the highest level of government, which this obviously is, I think provides some hope that they can actually make a difference," Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis, told VOA.

FILE - Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith in Indianapolis, Nov. 2, 1995. Goldsmith, now with Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said the "challenges are dramatic" for Kushner's new office of innovation.
FILE - Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith in Indianapolis, Nov. 2, 1995. Goldsmith, now with Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said the "challenges are dramatic" for Kushner's new office of innovation.

The Obama White House launched a similar, but more narrowly focused, initiative in 2008.

The Trump administration says its crack at the problem will also take a "SWAT-team approach," a reference to the special police squads trained to quickly respond to violent or potentially dangerous situations.

This attention-getting terminology to try to solve government problems has been instituted for decades by both Republican and Democratic party administrations, but critics have expressed skepticism of its effectiveness.

'Symptom of management problems'

At his congressional confirmation hearing in 1993 to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, Leon Panetta termed the SWAT team approach "a symptom of management problems, not a way in itself to ensure good management."

Kushner, already a White House senior adviser, also found himself in the spotlight on Monday for another reason: the Select Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) wants to question him about his ties to Russia.

Kushner has voluntarily agreed to be interviewed as part of the committee's investigation into the Russian activities surrounding the 2016 election, the two top senators on SSCI confirmed Monday.

FILE - Sen. Mark Warner leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 3, 2017. Warner said the SSCI "expect [Kushner] to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry."
FILE - Sen. Mark Warner leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 3, 2017. Warner said the SSCI "expect [Kushner] to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry."

"Mr. Kushner will certainly not be the last person the committee calls to give testimony, but we expect him to be able to provide answers to key questions that have arisen in our inquiry," said Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the SSCI, and Senator Mark Warner, its Democratic vice chairman, in a joint statement.

The timing of Kushner's testimony is still being determined, they said, "but will only come after the committee determines that it has received any documents or information necessary to ensure that the meeting is productive for all sides."

Kushner would become the closest person to President Trump to be questioned in the investigations underway on Capitol Hill looking into contacts between the campaign team last year and Russians.

Russian interference

Intelligence officials and other have stated there was Russian interference in last year's presidential election intended to boost Trump, the Republican Party candidate, and undermine former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party's nominee.

WATCH: Spicer describes Kushner's transition role

​The White House says Kushner's contacts, as part of his role as a liaison with foreign officials during the campaign and the transition, were innocuous.

There is no indication Kushner is the target of any probe into wrongdoing. However, there is heightened scrutiny into any contacts which occurred between Trump team members and people linked to the Kremlin.

Both the White House and the Vnesheconombank (VEB) on Monday acknowledged that a meeting took place in December during the transition between Kushner and the head of a Russian state-owned bank.

That meeting was also attended by Michael Flynn, who would briefly serve as Trump's national security advisor before being fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversation he had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Kushner's presence at the meeting with VEB chief executive officer Sergey Gorkov was among other meetings that took place the same month that had been arranged by Ambassador Kislyak involving other transition team members, as well.

VEB is considered the Russian government's primary institution for financing of its most important projects, according to analysts.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any involvement in Russian inquiries at the Justice Department after he failed to disclose during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had met the ambassador during the presidential campaign.

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