Mississippi Chief Information Officer Craig Orgeron said Wednesday he plans to retire from public service next month, after 23 years with the state government.
Orgeron, whose retirement was announced by the governing board of the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services on Tuesday, is one of the nation’s longest serving statewide CIOs, having been appointed to the role in 2011. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Mississippi State University, and before joining the state government served as a communications and computer systems staff officer in the U.S. Air Force.
As CIO, Orgeron’s work centered on managing network infrastructure, modernizing legacy systems and improving the services offered to residents of the small, mostly rural state. A former president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Orgeron is also credited for his leadership among state IT officials nationally, as well as his work improving Mississippi’s digital service offerings, advocating for the use of data-driven government and hardening the state’s cybersecurity posture.
The decision to step down, which will take effect Aug. 7, was “a tough one,” he told StateScoop.
“These are my people, these are my colleagues and my friends I’ve known for a very long time and that was really the toughest part of it,” Orgeron said. “What I’ve learned and what helped me make the decision is that everybody eventually leaves. And it’s very difficult to say when the time is right.”
Orgeron is also stepping down at a time when government technology officials have been called on to support newly remote workforces, and defend against hackers and other malicious online actors seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the health crisis has also proven to be “an accelerant” for many of state governments’ technology initiatives, especially the adoption of cloud-based services, Orgeron said.
Michele Blocker, the Mississippi IT agency’s chief administrative officer, will serve as an interim replacement while Gov. Tate Reeves searches for a new CIO. But as far as the state’s ability to continue directing its technology initiatives without him, Orgeron said he feels “as sure as ever that the mission will continue.”
For Orgeron, the job of state CIO was about delivering what he called “a diverse portfolio” of initiatives that kept his work fun and infused with meaning. In 23 years with the state, he helped deploy technologies that enabled state functions ranging from public safety to public health. In recent years, he sat on a working group that sought to encourage the use of data-driven policy from the governor’s office, ushered in new cybersecurity laws and governance councils to protect critical systems like elections and helped deploy new modes of service-delivery like chatbots, virtual reality and digital voice assistants.
“I think it’s the mission of it, this feeling that the mission you’re part of really makes a difference,” Orgeron said. “I think that’s the ultimate thing. Sometimes you get involved with things and time slips right by you, but I always felt supported here at ITS and always felt challenged with the things we needed to do.”
Orgeron was also an active member of NASCIO. In addition to serving as the group’s 2013-14 president, he frequently helped develop its various reports, webcasts and conference sessions, NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson said. In 2015, the association presented Orgeron with its meritorious service award, a recognition that Robinson said is only granted to members with records of exceptional public service.
“He’s universally well liked by the CIO community and certainly my NASCIO team. They’re all upset he’s retiring,” Robinson said. “Craig is a true Southern gentleman, that’s the best way for me to describe him. I’ve had the opportunity to visit with him down in Jackson and talk to him on different personal and professional levels for a long time. He navigated the landscape down there pretty well because it’s gone in waves in Mississippi as to what they’ve been doing.”
Orgeron said he’s now evaluating options in the private sector, but that he wants to choose thoughtfully and hasn’t made any decisions yet. For those who remain in government IT, including many new state CIOs who’ve been appointed in recent months, Orgeron offered a few words of advice:
“Relationships are very important and always tell the truth,” he said. “The technical part of the job is fabulous … but ultimately it comes back to are you a respected voice, do you treat people respectfully and do you tell the truth? And if you do those things, there are going to be bumps and swerves in the road, but I think you’re going to come out OK.”