The future of the Office of American Innovation, created specifically for first son-in-law Jared Kushner, looks bleak if it is run anything like the New York Observer, a now-defunct paper formerly owned by Kushner.
This was the view put forward in a Washington Post op-ed Thursday by Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of Gawker and the New York Observer’s former editor-in-chief.
In the article, Spiers painted an unflattering portrait of Kushner as a businessman obsessed with cutting costs at the expense of growth and innovation.
“We submitted business plans over and over again, and Kushner rejected them,” Spiers recalled of her time at the Observer. “He wanted the Observer to be cheaper to run, usually at the expense of growth and evolution, and he could not see the relationship between scale and profit — between risk and reward.”
Kushner, Spiers wrote, had unrealistic expectations, and could not distinguish between news media and software companies.
“Kushner would frequently point to a media company with a 60-person editorial staff and ask why our two-person desk wasn’t producing as many stories or as much traffic,” Spiers wrote. “Or he’d argue, bizarrely and incorrectly, that because Gawker started with one person, that meant you didn’t need head count to scale a media company.”
This approach, Spiers noted, could prove detrimental if applied to the Office of American Innovation.
“Cost-cutting is important in situations where there is excess, but it is not what catalyzes evolution,” she explained. “If the point here is to make government more effective, not just more efficient, cuts alone won’t do it.”
Spiers also questioned Kushner’s overall business expertise, noting that he inherited his company from his father, and went further, suggesting he had an inflated view of his own capabilities.
“He seemed to view his wealth and its concomitant accoutrements as rewards for his personal success in business, and not something he would have had in any case,” she wrote. “To me, he appeared to view his position and net worth as the products of an essentially meritocratic process.”
Kushner, Spiers reflected, may never have intended to grow the Observer at all, seeing it only as yet another vanity project, like the $2,500 Mac desktop he had been using as a monitor to combine Apple with Windows.
“I worry that this new office will be more of the same,” Spiers wrote. “A vanity project, one that exists primarily to put Kushner in the same room with people he admires whom he wouldn’t have had access to before, glossing government agencies in the process with a thin veneer of what appears to be capitalism but is really just nihilistic cost-cutting designed to project the optics of efficiency.”
On Tuesday, the non-profit public policy organization the Competitive Enterprise Institute expressed a more cautiously optimistic outlook on Kushner’s new office.
“Done right, the “Innovation” emphasis, the mindset, can work hand-in-hand with Trump’s other moves to reduce the scope of Washington over the nation,” the article said. Positive innovations of the OAI would be the creation of “Regulatory Reform Task Forces at agencies to eliminate red tape; an “Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch”; and “proposals in the Trump Budget Blueprint to eliminate some agencies altogether and to implement deep cuts in others such as the Environmental Protection Agency.”
At the same time, the report warned that the newly created office could potentially cost hundreds of billions in new government infrastructure programs which would “deteriorate over time when the glow wears off.”