Culatta tapped as Rhode Island's first chief innovation officer

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Former U.S. Educational Technology Director Richard Culatta has been tapped as Rhode Island’s first chief innovation officer and will lead new efforts to improve government services and operations, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday.

Culatta, a Rhode Island native, will now focus on developing cutting-edge approaches to government services rather than educational programs. He revealed in December that he was stepping down from his post at the Department of Education to pursue a new venture.

“To effectively serve citizens, government needs to become competent in the digital age and work with the private sector to tackle challenges that are too big for either to solve on their own,” Culatta said in a release announcing the move. “Rhode Island has the opportunity to become a nationally-recognized innovation hub and an example for the rest of the country of how to make government move faster at a reduced cost.”

The new role will be centered on transparency and using technology to reduce costs, by “opening up government and using data to solve problems,” Raimondo said in the release.

She added that Culatta’s appointment signals a shift from traditional government operations.

“Part of creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders is putting their needs first, and turning away from how government has always done things,” Raimondo said. “We need new approaches, both in the way government operates and in the type of businesses we attract here.”

Culatta’s new innovation efforts will be centered in the Office of Innovation, located at Rhode Island College, and will be supported by the college’s foundation. The office will work to make government more efficient, cost effective and responsive to citizen needs, while also focusing on accelerating and promoting private sector innovations across the state, according to a press release.

In a statement, Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo said in the release the presence of the office at the college “underscores the critical role public higher education plays in the Rhode Island economy.”

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Culatta a nationally recognized “innovative leader in government,” and praised him for helping the team “pioneer new approaches for using technology to engage with citizens and improve government impact through public and private partnerships.”

Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Culatta’s efforts around ConnectED — the Obama administration’s effort to connect 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless Internet — will suit him well in Rhode Island.

“Richard was a serial entrepreneur inside government,” Kalil said in the release. He “was focused on using all the tools he had to support student learning. I look forward to watching Richard tap the best of Rhode Island’s creative talent to move the state forward.”

Reach the reporter at jake.williams@statescoop.com, or follow him on Twitter @JakeWilliamsDC.

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