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GSA Hires Former Pixar Executive and Oscar Winner as TTS Commissioner

Rob Cook

Rob Cook // Courtesy GSA

The General Services Administration announced today it has hired a new commissioner to head its Technology Transformation Service.

Rob Cook, a software engineer who co-developed Pixar’s RenderMan software that revolutionized the visual effects industry—and for which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an Oscar award in 2001—will officially begin his new role with GSA on Oct. 31.

Cook’s background makes him uniquely qualified to run TTS, which itself aims to help federal agencies better deliver digital services, according to GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth. In addition to co-architecting Pixar’s RenderMan software—used by 19 of the last 20 Visual Effects Oscar-winning movies—Cook has both launched his own company and held the position of CEO with another, Numinous, which was later sold to Microsoft. He was Pixar’s vice president of software development through 2012 and has spent the past four years as a business consultant for several Silicon Valley companies.

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“Rob is someone who has considerable experience both in delivering great technology and in building great organizations,” Roth said in a statement. “I can’t think of a better or more qualified individual to take our emerging technology efforts at GSA to the next level.”

Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott also weighed in on Cook’s hiring.

“Rob’s renowned experience, both as a software developer and in cultivating innovative teams throughout his career, are incredible additions to our long-term goal of enhancing the way government uses technology to deliver world-class services for citizens,” Scott said in a statement.

Cook appears to have both an understanding of the challenge ahead and a vision for TTS, which is composed of some 300 people from the government’s tech startup 18F, the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the FedRAMP program office. 18F’s challenges have been the most scrutinized, with the 2-year-old tech team the recipient of critical oversight reports in recent months from the Government Accountability Office and most recently, the GSA inspector general.

The IG report found 18F experienced a net loss of $31 million between the 2014 and 2016 fiscal years because of a collection of “inaccurate financial projections, increased staffing levels, and the amount of staff time spent on non-billable activities."

“I’m excited by the possibility of transforming the way the government interacts with people,” Cook said in a statement. “We need three things to succeed: first-rate technology expertise, effective relations with industry and great partners throughout government. Close collaboration with our agency colleagues is crucial to making this possibility a reality."

Dave Shive, GSA’s chief information officer, has served as acting TTS commissioner since July, stepping in following the departure of Phaedra Chrousos. In a difficult dual-role, Shive regularly defended the tech unit against criticism and attempted to reframe the discussion regarding 18F’s value proposition to the rest of government. With Cook’s hiring, Shive will step back into his CIO role full time.

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