During his presidential campaign in 2007, then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama declared: "I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over." This was the same race in which Google's Eric Schmidt started campaigning for the man who is now president, and ever since then, it seems that ties between the internet giant and the White House have been close. The latest personnel exchange between government and corporation was announced earlier this week, with Google hiring former White House economist Caroline Atkinson as its new head of global policy.
Silicon Valley loves a good Washington insider — and vice versa
Notable swaps between Google and the White House in the past have included Megan Smith, who left the tech company in 2014 to become chief technology officer of the United States; and Andrew McLaughlin, who was Google’s head of global public policy until becoming the White House's deputy chief technology officer in 2009. And of course, this back and forth isn't limited to Google: in August 2014, Obama's top political strategist David Plouffe, who managed the 2008 presidential campaign, became Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy. And in February last year, former White House press secretary Jay Carney was hired to be Amazon's senior vice president for global corporate affairs.
In this most recent example, though, Google's new hire will be expected to influence political opinion abroad as much as in the US. In the past few years, the internet giant has suffered from poor relations with the European Union, especially after attempts to negotiate its way out of a competition complaint broke down and Brussels formally accused the company of monopolistic search practices in April last year. The FT reports that Google's attempts to drive a hard bargain "angered rivals," and notes the company's new conciliatory approach mirrors Microsoft's change in tact after it was hit by similar complaints a decade ago.
Atkinson has previously worked for the US Treasury and International Monetary Fund, and was formerly as Obama's representative at the G7 and G20 summits. At the time of her appointment, President Obama said: "Caroline is respected around the world for her understanding of how the global economy works, her tireless efforts to promote strong, balanced and sustainable growth and her experience in managing international financial crises." These are the sorts of skills that Google can't help but appreciate.