Can a Hollywood Techie Grow Government's Innovation Shop?

Adam Mazmanian | FCW | December 2, 2016

By his own admission, Rob Cook was "failing at semi-retirement" when he was offered the top job at the Technology Transformation Service, the government innovation shop based at the General Services Administration that includes 18F. Cook, 63, left his California home behind – as well as the Oscar statuette he keeps dressed in GI Joe clothes – and moved to a rented apartment in Washington, D.C., for a three-year term appointment in the Senior Executive Service as TTS commissioner.

Cook won his Academy Award for work developing RenderMan, the 3D animation software that gives Pixar films their particular look and feel. Cook said he was drawn to government services for some of the same reasons he was drawn to the world of entertainment – to "have an impact on people's lives." "When I walk through an airport and I see a kid holding a Pixar toy or doll, every time I see it, it just moves me," he said. "I'm happy to have been a part of something that touches people's lives."

TTS was launched administratively, and while the innovation effort has some high-profile support, its future remains uncertain in the coming Trump administration. Many of its staff, particularly within 18F, are on two-year term appointments that are renewable for an additional two years, so a hiring freeze or outright neglect of the organization could cause it to wither, even if it isn't abolished outright. GSA is using the last days of the Obama administration to make a bipartisan, dollars-and-cents case for keeping TTS as a way to help the whole of government become a smarter and more efficient buyer of technology from industry...