Rhode Island’s first chief innovation officer, Richard Culatta, announced his resignation Tuesday.
The announcement ends roughly seven years of service in the public sector, though his work in education will continue in his new role with the International Society for Technology in Education, where he will be CEO. His official departure from the state’s Innovation Office is slated for May 1. Culatta told StateScoop he’s most proud of the work his team has done in making innovation a part of routine state government culture, namely through the state’s new Government Innovation League.
“It’s a way to build a culture of innovation in government, which is pretty awesome, and I don’t think anybody else is doing anything like that,” Culatta said.
His signature initiatives in the state have included plans to begin developing and testing a state 5G wireless network, launching a program for free textbooks, working to increase computer science opportunities in schools and raising $1.5 million for the Governor’s Innovation Office.
Through a program called Computer Science for Rhode Island, Culatta’s Office of Innovation is helping to bring computer science education to the state’s schools. That work, he said, along with the office’s other projects, will continue when he leaves as the state looks for a way to make innovation sustainable.
“I was always kind of a startup guy,” Culatta said. “I always intended to see whether this was an experiment of making a lab space that would actually work. And I think it has!
“I’m sure there are people who would like to not see innovation happen and continue doing things the way we’ve always done it, but in general people realize this is an approach that makes sense and so now the goal is to transition this from an experiment to something that is longer term and can last as long as necessary to continue bringing innovation into government.”
Culatta said he’s recommended several “good people” who might serve as his replacement, but no decision has been made yet.
“The governor’s been pretty clear the work needs to continue,” he said. “There’s too many people depending on it, too many schools that are looking for support.”
The state will also soon launch a new project to modernize the state’s libraries, Culatta reported.
David Ortiz, a spokesman for Gov. Gina Raimondo, told the Providence Journal that the Innovation Office will continue.
The Journal reported Culatta’s salary, funded through a state partnership with the Rhode Island College Foundation, totaled $210,000 per year with a $21,000 yearly supplemental retirement benefit and a $550 per month car allowance. A local NBC affiliate noted some controversy with Culatta’s role, as state Sen. Paul Jabour questioned his “quasi-cabinet” status under the governor, with funding through a nonprofit.
Culatta explained that this is how his position was structured from the beginning to facilitate strong collaboration with local universities and professors to undertake projects that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Colin Wood contributed to this story.