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HHS Taps Karl Mathias as CIO, AI Chief Oki Mek Departs

Mathias leaves U.S. Marshals Service to join HHS as CIO on March 14, and CAIO Oki Mek departs after over 11 years at HHS.
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Graphic background with silhouettes of new HHS CIO Karl Mathias and former HHS CAOI Oki Mek.
Photo Credit: New HHS CIO Karl Mathias and Former HHS CAOI Oki Mek.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of the CIO is undergoing a shuffle in leadership positions, with Karl Mathias entering as the agency’s new CIO and Oki Mek exiting his position as chief artificial intelligence officer this week.

Mathias will begin as the agency’s CIO March 14, and Mek departed Sunday.

“HHS is pleased to welcome Dr. Karl Mathias as chief information officer,” HHS told GovCIO Media & Research. “Dr. Mathias is a seasoned executive whose career has been defined by exceptional leadership and a commitment to service. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated technical expertise and the ability to manage complex organizations and teams effectively. He has direct experience executing on areas that are key priorities for HHS, such as expanding our zero trust framework and robotics process automation.”

The shifts in the CIO office come after a stretch of vacancies and officials serving in acting leadership positions, including the CIO, CISO and CDO.

Mathias will join his position as CIO from the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency he has been a part of for over seven years. Previously, he has held various leadership positions across the Air Force, including deputy director of Headquarters Air Force Information Management, executive director of the 844th Communications Squadron and division chief at Air Force Materiel Command Plans and Policy.

Mathias will replace acting CIO George Chambers, who took on the role after Perryn Ashmore retired from the permanent CIO position last May. Chambers will return to serving in his original position as executive director of the Office of Application and Platform Solutions.

Prior to Ashmore, HHS also suffered a drought of stable CIO leadership since former CIO Jose Arrieta unexpectedly resigned in the summer of 2020. Then CISO Janet Vogel acted as CIO until Ashmore entered the position.

HHS is still looking to appoint permanent positions across its CIO wing. The deputy CIO position remains vacant, and La Monte Yarborough and Nikolaos Ipiotis have been filling in as acting CISO and CDO, respectively, as the agency seeks permanent leaders for the positions.

Mek told GovCIO Media & Research that he has been considering a departure to pursue new opportunities. He said that before leaving, he was committed to standing up the new AI office at HHS. He was the first AI chief of HHS, entering the position in December 2020, and established the agency’s first AI Strategy, AI Playbook, AI council and communities of practice.

“I am honored and privileged to have supported the HHS mission and served the American people,” Mek told GovCIO Media & Research. “I am blessed to have worked alongside so many dedicated civil servants on critical transformative and innovative efforts to provide essential services to the American people.”

Amid all of his work, Mek said he found the newly established trustworthy AI work at HHS a notable milestone for him.

“Most recently, we developed and carried out the HHS AI Strategy with our workforce, partnered with multiple federal agencies and health organizations to realize the true value of AI,” Mek said. “We successfully developed a tangible foundation for trustworthy AI in the federal space to not only guide the success of AI implementation, but also to make sure they are fair, legal, ethical and secure. I am confident that other organizations both public and private will be able to leverage what we have developed to further the advancement of trustworthy AI implementation for our citizens, nation and society.”

Mek departs HHS after over 11 years at the agency. Prior to serving as chief AI officer, he was senior advisor to the HHS CIO and also CTO of the HHS Division of Acquisition, among other roles. He also previously served nearly eight years at the Department of Energy before HHS.

Greg Singleton, who has been HHS senior advisor for national security and advanced research and director of HHS’s Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center, is currently slated as the new chief AI officer, according to HHS’ website.

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