California digital services adviser steps down

Michael Wilkening, an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom and former head of the state's Health and Human Services agency, has left state government after 25 years.
Michael Wilkening
Michael Wilkening (Scoop News Group)

Michael Wilkening, a special adviser to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on technology and digital services and a longtime state government official, stepped down last week.

In his role as an adviser to Newsom, Wilkening oversaw several recent technology projects, including the launch of a new Office of Digital Innovation specializing in the development of public service delivery, a revised approach to how the state procures tech contracts and the creation of a new governmentwide website that aims to consolidate citizen services in a single, user-friendly setting.

Wilkening’s departure was first reported by Techwire. He could not be reached for comment.

During a 2019 interview with StateScoop, Wilkening said the Office of Digital Innovation was created to focus on improving customer service from government, especially one as large as California’s.


“Bringing a user-centered design lens to that work, that’s going to be a common thread to everything that this office does,” he said at the time.

Wilkening last year also announced a relaunch California’s open data products, creating what he called a “portal of portals” through which users could access agency information from a single source.

“Today we have different entry points for all our different data types,” Wilkening said then. “What we’re doing is rethinking that whole concept. What are our entry points?”

California’s new open data site, unsurprisingly, has become a clearinghouse for information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently at its worst point yet across the state. Some of Wilkening’s other projects have also seen use during the health crisis, too. The new procurement vehicle, called requests for innovative ideas — in which the government asks bidders to design solutions from scratch, rather than set narrow guidelines for vendors to meet — was recently used to solicit bids for the collection and transport of coronavirus testing samples.

Before joining the governor’s office as an adviser, Wilkening served as secretary of the California Health and Human Services agency. He also spent nearly a decade as an undersecretary during the administrations of Newsom’s predecessors, Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


During his tenure at CHHS, Wilkening often sought technology-driven solutions to the agency’s tasks. During a particularly aggressive wildfire season in 2017, Wilkening led a team that developed a dashboard to help officials track the spread of fires and figure out which medical and care facilities under the agency’s jurisdiction needed to be evacuated.

Wilkening first joined the state government in 1995 as a budget analyst in the California Department of Finance and remained with that agency for 13 years until moving to CHHS.

Benjamin Freed

Written by Benjamin Freed

Benjamin Freed was the managing editor of StateScoop and EdScoop, covering cybersecurity issues affecting state and local governments across the country. He wrote extensively about ransomware, election security and the federal government’s role in assisting states and cities with information security.

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