Microsoft's 'Strong Defense of the United States'

Douglas A. McIntyre

Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) described the reasons it does business with the U.S. government, a decision that has bothered some employees. At the core of the argument is the huge tech company’s commitment to a “strong defense of the United States” based on the premise that “we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology.” Among the open questions is whether other large nations, particularly those that have used technology to challenge the United States, should have better technology tools than America does.

The Microsoft position echoes what is at the heart of similar decisions by tech companies that either sell the federal government technology or have been asked by the United States for help in particular circumstances in which the nation needs special tech expertise. Among the most well known of these is a set of requests for U.S. tech leaders to encourage employees to work on projects for which the government does not have sufficiently skilled employees. This, in some circumstances, means that these workers have to move onto government payrolls temporarily.

Management at large tech companies has been largely supportive of supplying tech that will help with these national interests. Employees at a number of these firms have objected. Microsoft acknowledged this when it announced its intentions. In a blog post titled “Technology and the U.S. Military,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote:

[W]e understand that some of our employees may have different views. We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes. We also respect the fact that some employees work in, or may be citizens of, other countries, and they may not want to work on certain projects. As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team – for whatever reason – we want them to know we support talent mobility. Given our size and product diversity, we often have open jobs across the company and we want people to look for the work they want to do, including with help from Microsoft’s HR team.

In general, if the federal government is not asking tech companies to compromise access to their confidential information, about either proprietary intellectual property or user data, it becomes a decision of whether to help the United States or leave it open to challenges it might not face if help were forthcoming. It is hard to make the argument that Microsoft has not done the right thing.