Beth Niblock, who’s been Detroit’s chief information officer since 2014, is joining the Biden administration as the new CIO at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the department confirmed to StateScoop on Tuesday.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said that Art Thompson, previously the director of IT and cybersecurity for public safety, will succeed Niblock as the citywide CIO.
In a press release, Duggan praised Niblock for using technology to improve the delivery of numerous city services, including sewer and water repairs, roadway maintenance, reporting unsecured vacant homes and illegal dumping. The mayor also credited her with several projects related to the Detroit Police Department, including Project Green Light, a program that’s mounted surveillance cameras on private businesses, apartment buildings and houses of worship, all of which feed their footage into a the city’s Real Time Crime Center. (Project Green Light has been criticized for racially profiling residents of majority-Black Detroit, compounding issues raised by the city’s issues with facial-recognition software, which has been linked to multiple wrongful arrests.)
Duggan also credited Niblock with development of the city’s open data portal and IT modernization initiatives across municipal agencies.
Since 2019, Niblock has also served as Detroit’s head of homeland security and emergency management. Beginning last year, she served as one of Duggan’s top deputies overseeing the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a virtual conference last October, she said her team, using open-source software, worked with local vendors to build a data platform that could feed information about the coronavirus back to physicians and hospitals.
She was also responsible for standing up a system for diagnostic testing, which was in rare supply in the pandemic’s early days, when residents of the city’s densest and poorest — and least-wired — housing were hit hardest.
“You have to meet your citizens where they are,” she said during the October conference.
At HUD, Niblock will take over tech leadership of a department that, until recently, had perhaps the weakest financial and reporting infrastructure of any Cabinet-level federal agency. In 2018, the department started working with the General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence to reform its IT procedures, including data analytics, contact centers, cloud adoption and customer experience. Last December, HUD turned in its first clean and audited financial statement in eight years.
The department has also been without a permanent CIO since David Chow, a political appointee in the Trump administration, stepped down in January. A career professional, Christopher Webber, has been serving as acting CIO since.
Thompson, Niblock’s successor in Detroit, has been credited with managing many of the city’s public-safety IT upgrades, including the Real Time Crime Center and the Detroit Police Department’s body-worn camera program. He also oversaw the installation of cameras to monitor ballot drop boxes posted around the city during the 2020 election.
“One of the best measures of a leader is how well they have prepared their replacement, and Beth has given us an outstanding successor in Art Thompson,” Duggan said in his press release. “Art has led the Detroit Police Department’s transformation into one of the nation’s most technologically advanced and I have no doubt he will do outstanding work as our city’s new CIO.”
A spokesperson for Duggan said he was not sure if Thompson will also be serving in the dual roles of CIO and homeland security chief.