- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A former technology director at the U.S. Department of Education is returning home to Rhode Island to become the state’s first chief innovation officer.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday she tapped Richard Culatta to improve government services, increase government transparency and use data to solve problems.

Culatta most recently worked as a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan before both stepped down last month. He also was executive director of the department’s education technology efforts.

Culatta will be leading a new Rhode Island Office of Innovation that will be based at the campus of Rhode Island College in Providence. He will be an employee of the Rhode Island College Foundation but also a member of the governor’s cabinet.

He begins next week and will make an annual salary of $210,000.

The Rhode Island native grew up in Kingston near the University of Rhode Island but said he didn’t expect to return to the state after moving away more than 15 years ago.

He graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah and later worked on technology and workplace collaboration initiatives at the Central Intelligence Agency and in the office of Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington before joining the Department of Education near the end of President Barack Obama’s first term.

Culatta said he believes Rhode Island under Raimondo’s leadership has the potential to become a hub for cutting-edge innovation within state government and in the private sector.

“If someone asked me even a couple years ago if I thought I would end up back in Rhode Island, I would have said, ‘No,’ just because I didn’t see a way for that to happen,” Culatta said in an interview Monday.

Many big cities now have chief innovation officers, but Rhode Island will be among just a handful of states to have one.

One of his jobs, he said, is inviting help from residents to discover ways that technology could make government services more efficient.

“The most important thing is to crowd-source ideas,” he said. “Innovations sometime come from the most unlikely places.”

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