Asher Klein

Obama Addresses South by Southwest Technology Festival

Obama spoke about how the administration is using technology to help make people's lives better

President Barack Obama asked tech enthusiasts to use new tools and innovation to "tackle big problems in new ways" at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

Obama said his administration is trying to make services easier to access online, has overhauled student loan forms and is trying to use technology to improve research into diseases.

But he added that activists and industry leaders need to keep looking for new ways to partner with government to bring in new ideas.

"With all the talent that’s out there, our government’s not working and our politics isn't working the way that it should," Obama said, urging activists to use technology to increase voter registration and turnout. "The only way we’re going to solve that is to make sure that we’re getting citizens involved."

A technology lover who arranged to keep using his BlackBerry in office and is often seen using an iPad, he is the first sitting U.S. president to attend the 30-year-old tech festival.

Obama said that the government needs to better portray the work that it does, affecting people's daily lives in many, often unseen ways.

"I could find the fiercest libertarian in this room who despises every level of government, thinks it's all corrupt, but they're checking the weather on their phone," he said. "Lo and behold, it turns out there's a government satellite out there that is facilitating that."

An example of how technologists can help government Obama cited is an effort that saw online retailers, manufacturers and nonprofits come together to help poor families get a vital baby necessity: diapers. One in three U.S. families doesn't have access to the supply of diapers they need, the White House says. The reasons are as varied as inability to make bulk purchases online at lower cost or not having enough money to buy them at the store.

Spurred by the administration, the online retailer Jet and First Quality, maker of the Cuties brand of diapers, created a program to let nonprofit organizations buy diapers at up to 25 percent cheaper than current prices, with no required minimum order and two-day shipping.

As a result, member organizations in a nationwide diaper bank are expected to order more than 15 million diapers through the program this year, according to White House estimates. These groups provide diapers to mothers and babies.

"When you have a baby, diapers are a necessity. They are not optional," Cecilia Munoz, the president's domestic policy adviser, wrote in an online post. "Addressing the high cost of diapers for low-income families can help to take one more burden off those families as they strive to reach the middle class, and give the next generation the great start in life that all kids deserve."

Obama's proposed budget for 2017 calls for spending $10 million to test different methods of getting diapers to needy families.

Before taking in the tech festival, Obama stopped at Torchy's Tacos in Austin, where he spent $18.40 on tacos and burritos for himself and members of his staff. Obama also slipped a $20 bill into the tip jar.

South by Southwest Interactive is part of South by Southwest, a movie, music and interactive media festival held in Austin for the past 30 years.

Obama is also scheduled to headline Democratic fundraisers while in the Texas capital.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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