Washington State CIO Michael Cockrill to Depart for Private Sector

Cockrill will leave state service on Oct. 20 for a position with the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, a nonprofit research group.

by / September 27, 2017
David Kidd/e.Republic

Washington state CIO Michael Cockrill will depart government service on Oct. 20 to take a position in the private sector, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced in a press release.

The departure comes days after a state audit cited eight steps for improvement related to the performance of WaTech, one of the agencies under Cockrill’s direction, although Matthew Bailey, a spokesman for WaTech, said Cockrill informed the governor’s chief of staff that he was departing nearly a month ago and the timing with the audit was purely coincidental.

Despite the recent performance audit being largely critical of WaTech for a range of reasons, from transparency to fiscal responsibility to communications, the governor’s office eschewed criticisms to emphasize and praise Cockrill’s contributions to government technology within Washington state, noting that he’d been CIO dating back to January 2013 (the start of Inslee’s tenure as governor) and had assumed direction of WaTech upon its creation in July 2015.

“Under Michael’s leadership, Washington has become one of the most technologically advanced states in the nation,” Inslee said in the press release. “Under his direction, WaTech has been highly focused on finding new and innovative ways to meet state technology needs, while enabling state agencies to evolve from outdated systems and processes. I thank Michael for his service, and my staff and I look forward to working with Rob [St. John] in his new role.”

WaTech was created by a 2015 bill passed in the state Legislature to consolidate three separate tech agencies that lawmakers there had previously split apart in 2011. In an interview at the time, Cockrill told Government Technology that WaTech’s creation might bring his office an increased workload but would likely benefit the state’s tech climate overall.

“You can’t be all things to all people, and there are strengths and weaknesses to all [approaches],” Cockrill said at the time. “Having the OCIO separate has a strength around oversight, but I’d argue it does that at the cost of aligning strategy with execution. The overall value of the strategy and implementing that strategy will make things more efficient. The net of it is we’re trying to get the best of both worlds, and I think this bill walks that line.”

Cockrill will have a lasting legacy of progress and innovation, having overseen the creation of the State Office of Cybersecurity (which participated in a federal partnership to strengthen critical infrastructure) and having lead a push to attract a younger generation of IT professionals to state government, deploying experiments with an innovative flat management structure called Holacracy, which aims to lure millennials by creating an environment without bosses. Cockrill also worked to establish Washington’s Office of Privacy and Data Protection, urging the governor to create a chief privacy officer role, which he did.  

Cockrill is leaving the public sector to join Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, a nonprofit research group seeking to reinvent computational biology. Cockrill has spent the majority of his career in the private sector, with a resume that includes a nine-year stint at Microsoft and experience founding and building tech startups.

“I’ve been honored to spend the past four and a half years working with a highly talented team to help reinvent how technology can be used to deliver critical state services,” Cockrill said in the governor’s press release. “I leave with new appreciation of public service and with sincere gratitude for the people who wake up every morning and make the choice to serve.” 

Rob St. John, a 32-year state veteran with much experience in government technology, will serve as acting director of WaTech while Washington conducts a search for a full-time replacement. St. John’s experience includes a stint as CIO for Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services as well as time spent as deputy director in the office of the state CIO under Cockrill.

“Rob’s in the agency now, he’s well-known, he’s experienced, and he’s worked in government for 30 years,” Bailey said.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.