Meet Google Public Sector’s new board of directors

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Dave Goldfein, retired general and former Air Force chief of staff, will serve as the board’s chairman, alongside professionals with backgrounds in defense and intelligence, technology, education, health care and state and local government.

Eleven months after Google bet big on its ability to serve government customers with a new division—Google Public Sector—the new, independent subsidiary on Wednesday announced its board of directors.

Retired General Dave Goldfein, a longtime pilot and former Air Force chief of staff, will serve as chairman of a board that includes six external directors and five internal directors.

External board members include former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who currently serves on the board of the Foundation for America’s Public Lands; Dr. Dawn Meyerriecks, a longtime government and industry technologist who headed the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate for seven years; Retired Army General Raymond Anthony Thomas III, who most recently served as the 11th Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Dr. Nadja West, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who helped lead the Defense Department’s response to the Ebola crisis in 2014; and Dr. Heather Wilson, who served as secretary of the U.S. Air Force from 2017 to 2019 and oversaw its science and technology strategy.

Google Public Sector CEO Karen Dahut joins Will Grannis, CTO of Google Cloud; Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud; Kevin Mandia, CEO of Mandiant; and Kent Walker, president of global affairs and chief legal officer at Google and Alphabet, to round out the board as internal directors.  

“Since taking on the role of CEO for Google Public Sector, I’ve heard directly from government and education customers the need for more choice in cloud vendors who can support their missions, and protect the health, safety and security of citizens,” Dahut said in a statement. “With our board of directors, Google Public Sector is well positioned to play a critical role in applying cloud technology to solve these and many other complex problems for our nation.”

Dahut told Nextgov the board will be critical for both Google Public Sector’s independence from Alphabet Inc., and its ability to focus wholly on helping public sector customers meet missions across the national security and defense, federal civilian, state and local, health care and education spaces.

Board members will weigh in on leadership and financial decisions, potential mergers and acquisitions, debt structure and perform other traditional functions, but Goldfein said they’ll also have significant input on matters of policy, such as how the company applies artificial intelligence principles to the market moving forward.

“What will be somewhat unique for this board is to find the right balance between connection to the parent company (Alphabet Inc.), but yet the appropriate level of independence,” Goldfein told Nextgov. “With an individual board just focused on GPS and the public sector, that’s where we’re going to find those rules and relationships.”

Google Public Sector enters a highly competitive government market with many well-established players, but Dahut isn’t phased by the competition or shy about the company’s chances at winning new business. Dahut expects Google Public Sector to provide world class technology to a wide swath of government customers. But partnerships—especially with integrators—will be key for its business.

“We are a partner-first company,” Dahut said. “We do not want to compete with integrators, we want them to lead the way, and we believe in the power of both.”

While Dahut said her company may be “third to the market” in the government cloud space where Amazon Web Services and Microsoft have been dominant players, it hasn’t exactly been idle, securing coveted awards on the Pentagon’s $9 billion Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract in December and on the CIA’s multi-billion dollar C2E contract. Dahut said the company’s cloud offering to secure the government’s secret classified data is “in accreditation,” which—if approved—would open the company to more government work.

“We welcome the challenge, and most of the people we’re hiring welcome the challenge,” Dahut said. “I think our government customers want choice,and they want an innovation partner. They want to be able to choose what cloud service provider they use depending on the app or workload they are trying to automate. I think we have a great opportunity to be prominent in that space.”

Dahut also believes her company’s ability to embed AI capabilities into its products may be a differentiator for government customers hoping to apply modern technologies to their missions. 250,000 active-duty enlisted U.S. Army personnel are now able to use Google Workspace, which has AI built into it to, for example, finish sentences and emails and other tasks.

“We happen to believe that our calling card as a company is really to be able to bring the best of breed cloud technology with AI and machine learning built in,” Dahut said. “It’s going to be an opportunity to really transform mission and transform business.”

Goldfein said he’s been pleased with how the company has thus far addressed AI’s paramount potential with ethical and other concerns posed by the technology.

“There are these two parallel discussions going on with AI, one is on the application, the other one is on ethics and morality moving forward,” Goldfein said. “I’ve been really proud of what I’ve heard and seen inside Google in terms of ensuring both of those discussions continue. And that there is a lot of discussion about how we apply AI and these principles are going to be a real focus of the board going forward as we help Karen and her team do the right things and do them in the right way.”