New CIO Wants to Make HHS a Testbed for Budding Tech

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Jose Arrieta has been chief information officer for less than a week but he’s reimagining what the role could be.

Jose Arrieta has only been the Health and Human Services Department’s chief information officer for six days, but he’s already planning to transform the role and establish more collaborative partnerships with other agencies around emerging technology.  

“We are reimagining the CIO function of HHS and you will hear that over and over and over again as I continue to be in this role,” Arietta said at an ACT-IAC forum in Washington Wednesday. “We are going to reimagine how the CIO function works and I personally don't see it as ‘how much can I control?’ I personally see it as ‘how much change can you actually instigate and how much change can you test and share with other folks so they can actually scale it?’”

Arietta said he and his team are already working with other agencies to pilot new programs around different budding technologies.

For example, Arietta said he is in introductory conversations with the Defense Information Systems Agency to try to find new ways to secure the edge of networks from an identity perspective, or essentially determine new means of authentication. DISA has the wireless devices and behavioral capabilities to determine identity, but what it needs—and what HHS has—is a distributed network to test everything on.

“We are going to try to pilot a wearable device or a mobile phone that uses behavioral information to create identity at the edge of a network,” he said. “I’m meeting with them the third week of June and I think we will be able to scale that model very rapidly.”

Arietta said this sort of authentication could work well for people across government and in terms of HHS priorities, it could work particularly well for first responders because logging on and multi-factor identification don’t really suit the nature of that job.

The agency also has different technology-focused accelerators that seek to boost innovation. He said the agency is collaborating with the Army and Air Force who are interested in either replicating an HHS infrastructure accelerator or figuring out new ways to use it in their mission space.

“It’s all about building relationships at a level where you can actually partner with federal organizations that want to make change,” he said.

Arietta also added that the agency wants to be a leader in the internet of things, or IoT, space. He said HHS Secretary Alex Azar II directed him to figure out how the department can create “a ripple effect” in which industry sees federal accomplishments and is inspired to invest and enhance the same capabilities.

“I think the innovation will occur in private industry, but government taking the first step is a big thing because it says ‘it’s ok,’ and once we say it’s ok we know folks in private industry will go build something that maybe we could never imagine,” he said.

And in a federal landscape that’s often credited with being risk-averse, the new CIO also emphasized he is “100 percent fine” with taking risks.

“I have to work for like 100 more years, so I might as well take risks now before I retire,” he said.