HHS reassigns CIO Beth Killoran in latest staffing shake-up

Just two months after House and Senate committees criticized the department for its instability, HHS moves Beth Killoran to the Office of the Surgeon General.
By Jessica Davis
01:49 PM
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Beth Killoran headshot from HHS

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reassigned CIO Beth Killoran to the Office of the Surgeon General “to develop a comprehensive information systems strategic plan for the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps,” an HHS official confirmed to Healthcare IT News on Tuesday.

HHS Chief Technology Officer Ed Simcox will temporarily take on the CIO role in addition to his normal duties until a replacement is found, the agency spokesperson said. Simcox transitioned to CTO after serving as active CTO since May and deputy CTO as of July 2017.

“Simcox has led multiple, large IT transformation efforts, both as an industry executive and consultant,” the spokesperson said. “As HHS CTO, he leads HHS efforts on enterprise data management, data sharing, technology-related healthcare innovation, and public-private partnerships.”

Killoran joined HHS in October 2014 from the Department of Homeland Security. She became HHS CIO in July 2016, where she also served as acting deputy CIO and executive director for the Office of IT Strategy, Policy and Governance.

Most recently, she reorganized the CIO office and named Todd Simpson as the first chief product officer, with innovation as the department’s focus.

But the reassignment is just the latest staffing shakeup in the agency this year. HHS CISO Chris Wlaschin departed in March for family reasons and was replaced by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Deputy CIO Janet Vogel.

And after a year of serving as the top tech strategist at HHS, its CTO Bruce Greenstein stepped down to join LHC Group in the private sector.

While the spokesperson would only comment on Killoran’s reassignment, the shake-ups come amid a House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation of the department to determine if HHS penalized two former Healthcare Cybersecurity Communications and Integration Center leaders for whistleblowing.

One of those leaders, sidelined HHS Deputy CISO Leo Scanlon claimed HCCIC was decimated in March. In June, staff upheld that viewpoint to the Senate HELP and House Energy and Commerce Committees and said it’s so unstable they don’t know if it exists.

A bipartisan letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar in June outlines a number of concerns, including a lack of leadership at the agency.

According to the letter, “stakeholders have informed our staffs that they no longer understand whether the HCCIC still exists, who is running it or what capabilities and responsibilities it has,” the committees wrote. And attempts from the committee to gain clarification on these concerns are “vague at best.”

The investigation will conclude in September, and so far there’s been no response from Azar about the concerns brought to the table by the committees. And with Killoran’s reassignment, she’s the fourth major agency CIO to be reassigned in the Trump administration.

HHS joins the Treasury and Agriculture departments and FEMA in the CIO reassignments. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Acting CIO Scott Blackburn left the agency in April.

And with hackers becoming increasingly more sophisticated and continually targeting the sector, permanent IT leadership in federal agencies is critical to shoring up security vulnerabilities and improving security posture across the sector.