Craig Martell, the Pentagon’s first-ever Chief Digital and AI Officer, to depart in April

The Defense Department has already chosen a successor.
Dr. Craig Martell, chief digital and artificial intelligence officer at the Defense Department, speaks during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee's Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation Subcommittee on Capitol Hill September 14, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Officials in the Pentagon’s Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office are preparing for their nascent hub’s first permanent leader — Craig Martell — to depart from his post on April 15, DefenseScoop has learned.

The Defense Department made a lot of buzz around hiring Martell in early 2022, when he opted to resign from his role as head of machine learning for Silicon Valley rideshare company Lyft to take the helm as the CDAO’s first chief.

According to several current and former DOD officials who spoke to DefenseScoop on the condition of anonymity, Martell’s planned exit from the CDAO is “imminent” — and he and the rest of the leadership team are currently getting set for a period of transition.  

A CDAO spokesperson later told DefenseScoop that Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. Radha Plumb will serve as the office’s new permanent chief.


Four predecessor organizations — the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), Defense Digital Service (DDS), Office of the Chief Data Officer, and the Advana program — were combined to form the CDAO, which was announced in late 2021 and reached full operating capability in 2022.

The office falls under the direct purview of Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who ultimately steered its launch to centralize oversight and expedite the adoption and implementation of the department’s data and AI initiatives.

On the heels of a long and deliberate hiring process, Martell was tapped to lead the CDAO in April 2022. 

Beyond his experience in executive roles at Lyft, Martell also previously held machine learning and AI positions at Dropbox and Linkedin and as a tenured computer science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School specializing in natural language processing.

Though his tenure leading the CDAO did not unfold without some controversy, Martell also helped the organization make significant progress in its earliest years — including by attempting to deepen U.S. tech ties with international partners, develop the DOD’s latest AI and data adoption guidance, and produce the department’s first minimum viable capability for Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control (CJADC2).


On top of those and other pursuits, Martell also spent a lot of time working to establish an overarching model to broadly guide the office’s approach to AI priorities and operations moving forward, which he coined as the CDAO’s “hierarchy of needs.”

“In order to deliver analytical and AI capabilities, we really have to get our data right. So, the major wins that we have delivered to the Department of Defense involve thinking about data as a product in a database. And I think it’s important not to automatically jump to the top of the hierarchy to see value. If we only deliver AI, then what we’ll be delivering is a stovepipe solution. Seriously if we only deliver AI — and the data is not ready, and the talent isn’t ready yet, and the governance isn’t ready and the staffing isn’t ready — then what does that mean? We will continue to deliver stovepipe solutions,” Martell told DefenseScoop during a media roundtable in February.

In a statement provided to DefenseScoop Thursday morning, Martell said: “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.”

Plumb “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,” Martell added.

Brandi Vincent

Written by Brandi Vincent

Brandi Vincent is DefenseScoop's Pentagon correspondent. She reports on emerging and disruptive technologies, and associated policies, impacting the Defense Department and its personnel. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Brandi produced a long-form documentary and worked as a journalist at Nextgov, Snapchat and NBC Network. She was named a 2021 Paul Miller Washington Fellow by the National Press Foundation and was awarded SIIA’s 2020 Jesse H. Neal Award for Best News Coverage. Brandi grew up in Louisiana and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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