New York City Chief Analytics Officer Amen Ra Mashariki is leaving his city position to take a job with the mapping and data analytics company Esri, following from his desire to return to a career outside of government while still having a focus on public service.
Mashariki, a Brooklyn native, was the second person to fill the position that Mayor Michael Bloomberg established with the appointment of Michael Flowers.
Mashariki, who joined the administration in October 2014, said he had been interested in returning to the private sector or academia after kicking off his government service as a White House Fellow. “It was never sort of a long-term plan for me to stay in government," he told City & State. “Esri sort of embodies that concept of being in the private sector but also having a public service bone.”
He became familiar with the company in part through his efforts to look for more ways that agencies could share data. He realized that many different agencies already had existing contracts with the company, and on the city's invitation, representatives from the company provided guidance on a pro-bono basis on ways to tie those somewhat disparate efforts together by sharing maps and data.
"Being around a small amount of the Esri employees you begin to see the passion, the same passion (I saw in) my team and ... and all of the great (tech) teams around City Hall,” he said. "The core of what they did was show us how to use technology the city has already invested in more efficiently."
The effort resulting in a "buildings intelligence tool" prototype focused on responding to emergencies. "We created ... real-world scenarios ... a scenario could be there's a blackout in a (specific) section of Brooklyn. We need to identify all of the buildings that have elevators that are stuck and identify fast and efficient ways to get to those buildings and unstick those elevators," he explained.
Mashariki, who will be moving back to D.C., said he did not expect to engage much with New York City government even beyond the one-year waiting period stipulated in city Conflicts of Interest Board guidelines, and suggested his new role would be about encouraging urban analytics projects especially in smaller cities with fewer resources.
On Wednesday evening, Mashariki is scheduled to recap his open data work at a public event at Civic Hall. "We're thinking about open data differently than any other city, even the federal government at this point, New York City is way, way out in front,” he said.
James Perazzo, deputy director for Strategic Management at the Office of Operations, will be acting director of the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics, in addition to his existing role.
"We are sorry to see (Mashariki) leave. He is a smart, dynamic, hardworking, technologist who completely understands the potential of open data as tool to empower both the public and people in government," John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, wrote in an email. "We hope the Mayor's Office mounts a serious search for a worthy successor. (His) legacy is 'open data for all' which is a philosophy of making open data a useful everyday tool for New Yorkers who are not part of the data elite, but just people who want to know what the city government is doing and how their city works.”
Noel Hidalgo, executive director of civic technology group Beta NYC, said in statement that Mashariki would be missed. "While we are thankful on the office's new focus on open data,” Hidalgo said, “we hope the next head will have the political and technical resources to continue to improving open data while growing the role of the Chief Analytics Officer."
Mashariki's exit follows the departure of Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, as first reported by Politico New York. "Moving forward, it was a natural fit to centralize Digital Strategy under the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Miguel Gamino, and we’re excited about the incredible progress that will continue," Ben Sarle, deputy press secretary, said in a statement about Sreenivasan’s departure.
Sreenivasan had joined the administration last August, reporting to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen. At the time, Kaehny had criticized the divergent aspects of the CDO's portfolio, encompassing both public digital engagement and acting as a liaison to technology start-ups and more established companies such as Uber.
Responding to the latest shift, Kaehny argued that all agencies should have a chief content officer focused on providing information and data to the public beyond a press officer that a chief digital officer could coordinate, and that the move to the CTO was likely a better fit for the position. "The move may make things a little better in the city's digital world, and probably not worse," he wrote.
Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech:NYC, offered a similar assessment.
"To the extent that things will be more centralized, that actually might be helpful for people trying to deal with the city, I think in the past there has been some confusion ...," Samuels said. "So consolidation might be efficient and effective in that way."