Office of Management and Budget spokesman Kenneth Baer said the invitees came from a list of CEOs who had used technology well in their companies—as opposed to the government, which processes patent applications manually and takes three years to approve one.
Liz Claiborne CEO Bill McComb said he believed he was invited in part because his company is a well-known American manufacturer with a diverse work force. "We're not attached to a lot of big scary issues like health care, big tobacco or anything controversial," he said.
To dig into specific topics, the CEOs broke up into small groupsin the Eisenhower Executive Office building. One was convened in a wood-paneled conference room with a mantelpiece painting of George Washington that was obscured by a chart on an easel.. Deputy Veterans' Affairs Secretary Scott Gould and three deputy cabinet secretaries guided the discussion on "streamlining operations." Mr. Gould said the group would talk about inspiring top performance from government employees. Then he explained that this inspiration would have to be done without much in the way of financial bonuses, threats of firing or promotions that leapfrogged the normal civil-service rules.
Cabinet Affairs Secretary Chris Lu pointed out that government managers worry that if they slash costs, "next year your appropriations go down."
The CEOs gave it a shot. Jeff Fettig of Whirlpool Corp. said, "It's about better customer benefit for a lower cost, faster."
Government needs to do what John Deere did, said Sam Allen, its CEO. "Get 32 handoffs down to one handoff."
Ms. Nooyi, the PepsiCo chief, said the government needs "a Project Manhattan type mentality to stop and say we're going to do it and we're going to go all the way."
Department of Energy Secretary Dan Poneman picked up on that. "Do we have a Manhattan Project? Actually we were the Manhattan Project. That was us." Everyone but Mr. Poneman laughed.
After the session wrapped up, Mr. Gould said the findings and ideas from the forum would be live-streamed on the White House Web site so the public could follow along.
The ultimate result, he said: a report.
But that would take 30 days.