Craig Martell to depart CDAO, reasons unclear

Craig Martell, the Pentagon’s first chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, will depart in April.

Craig Martell, who became the Pentagon’s first permanent chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, will depart from his role next month, the Defense Department announced today. 

The Pentagon has already picked a successor for Martell. Radha Plum, the deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, will officially assume the role on April 8.

Martell left his position as the head of machine learning at the ride-sharing company Lyft to lead the department’s nascent office in 2022. The Pentagon created the hub to bring disparate efforts around the adoption of data, analytics and artificial intelligence under one umbrella and allow industry experts to lead that effort.  

“It’s not for the joys of the job. I’m doing it because of the mission,” Martell said during the conference hosted by the Defense Department at the time.

Martell left the private sector to join the Defense Department around the time the hub became fully operational after absorbing the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Digital Services, the Chief Data Officer and the Advana platform.

When Martell assumed the role in 2022, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks tasked the CDAO with launching the Global Information Dominance Experiment, also known as GIDE. Last year, she instructed the office to provide a minimum viable capability for Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control (CJADC2) to the Joint Force.

At the conference hosted by the CDAO last month, Hicks announced the initial version of the Pentagon’s efforts to combine its IT systems to improve decision-making was up and running, which was “no easy task.”

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Kathleen Hicks, brought me on board two years ago to stand up the CDAO. We agreed early on that to “stand up” meant developing a strategy for the organization and the DoD as a whole, developing the right roadmaps to deliver on that strategy, and creating the right organizational structure to support those roadmaps. With the release of the Department’s Data, Analytics, and AI Strategy in November 2023, the roadmap work that each of the CDAO Directorates have done, and the organizational changes we have put in place over the last few years, these were achieved. We brought together four distinct organizations into one, and we accomplished so much in such a short time. I’m incredibly proud of the team that made this happen,” Martell said in a statement the Pentagon provided to Federal News Network.

The strategy Martell’s office was in charge of developing unifies all the Pentagon’s previous guidance and resources to provide the department with a comprehensive roadmap for the adoption and usage of data, analytics and AI.

Martell spent most of his career in the private sector, leading machine learning efforts at tech giants such as Dropbox and LinkedIn.

The reasons for his departure from the position are still unclear.

Plumb, who will take over Martell’s role in the next couple of weeks, spent most of her career in the federal government but briefly left the public sector to lead policy analysis efforts at Facebook and trust and safety solutions efforts at Google. Prior to that, she was a senior economist at RAND. She also spent some of her time at the Energy Department and on the National Security Council.

“Dr. Radha Plumb will come in as the new CDAO. Radha joins us directly from her tenure as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (DUSD(A&S)), and she is no stranger to the ways of industry. She has been right alongside me for the past year at many key senior leader meetings and working groups, and she will seamlessly step into the role,” said Martell.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement, “I am grateful for [Martell’s] willingness to step out of the commercial sector over these past few years to contribute his talents to public service. Craig and the entire CDAO team had a monumental task of bringing together the diverse talents and cultures of four organizations to advance data, AI, and analytics for our national security, and deliver tangible results in a short time. Dr. Martell and the CDAO team have delivered on those goals and his work will have a lasting impact on how the Department approaches every data and AI driven task.”

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