U.S. Digital Response Welcomes Hillary Hartley as the new CEO

U.S. Digital Response
U.S. Digital Response
5 min readMar 21, 2023


By Jen Pahlka, U.S. Digital Response Board Chair

This month, U.S. Digital Response turns three. As it happens, this birthday aligns with a time to reflect on the organization’s journey and make two exciting announcements: Hillary Hartley is taking the reins as our new CEO, and Avni Shah is joining our board of directors!

Both join USDR at a pivotal moment. Three years ago, our country went into shock as we were asked to shelter in place to avoid the spread of a novel coronavirus. Governments across the country needed to react suddenly to manage data pipelines, stand up new services, ensure the continuity of existing ones, and generally meet the needs of the public under entirely different circumstances than existed only the previous week. It was a scary time, but some chose action over fear. Within days, thousands of tech, design, and data professionals had raised their hands to help public servants help their communities. A core team coalesced, with equal parts tech and government backgrounds, to vet both volunteers and the government partners who needed their skills and match them together to solve urgent community problems across the country.

Three years later, the pandemic no longer dominates the agenda, but the need for USDR is only clearer.

The same roll-up-your-sleeves spirit is needed everywhere, from election management to managing federal grants to improving state unemployment insurance systems. Both USDR and the public servants we support want to move from reacting to crises to preventing them. This organization and its community are doing even more critical, impactful work today than at the height of the pandemic. And as we move into our fourth year, with an exceptional team, skilled and big-hearted volunteers, courageous partners in government, generous and well-aligned funders, and most of all, strong values, we are poised to do even more in the coming decade.

On behalf of the board and with the strong agreement of the executive team, we know there is no better person than Hillary to lead USDR in this moment as it grows to meet the significant needs of our country. Hillary comes to USDR after six years as Chief Digital and Data Officer for the province of Ontario, Canada, where she led the Ontario Digital Service, a groundbreaking organization that has made interacting with government simpler and easier for people and businesses. Before joining Ontario (where she also carried the title of Deputy Minister), Hillary helped start a different groundbreaking organization within the US federal government: 18F, part of the Technology Transformation Service at the General Services Administration. She initially came into federal government as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, after many years of helping state and local governments with their online efforts at NIC. Throughout her career, she has led and participated in community-driven efforts, including creating one of the first co-working spaces in San Francisco in 2009 and organizing a team to build online poll locator software for the 2004 presidential election.

Hillary embodies the spirit of USDR. She has the experience we were looking for in a new CEO, and the collaborative, people-centered approach that every member of the team here displays and values. I have known and respected Hillary for well over ten years, but along with the rest of the search committee, I had the opportunity to learn more about her from colleagues and peers through our search process. We heard over and over that she is a “silo-buster,” a builder of bridges and cultivator of relationships, that she puts people at the center of all her work, and that she inspires teams to action grounded in clear values. She believes in the power of government, and particularly the power of giving public servants the tools they need to serve the public. Having come into this field through a background in design and usability, she also believes in the power of user research, technology, and product to change the relationship between government and the people it serves.

Effective collaboration across diverse perspectives is in USDR’s DNA, and this search was no exception.

We could not have succeeded without the support, first and foremost, of a passionate, dedicated executive team, led first by Jessica Cole, and later by Tina Walha. They, along with Alex Allain and Jessica Watson, made the search a top priority, showed up with smart questions, and effectively represented the organization’s needs. We cannot thank them enough for their partnership in this process, and for their leadership during it.

We were also blessed with a powerful and generous search committee. M Valentine, Reshma Khilnani, Jessica Cole, and of course my fellow board member Janette Fong collectively brought the skills and knowledge we needed to conduct a world-class search. Through clarity of process and a commitment to the organization’s values, we both challenged and supported each other, and the outcome is better for it. We also had the support of a seasoned search team in our partners at On-Ramps. Finally, we want to appreciate every person who took the time to apply for this role and to dedicate your time and imagination to this important work; this organization works because it is surrounded by such a vibrant and committed community, and we truly hope to continue to collaborate with you all. To everyone, thank you for treating this task with the gravity it merited. I am proud to have worked with you.

Our new CEO is not our only exciting news. We are also thrilled to welcome Avni Shah to the board. Avni is a seasoned technology executive and experienced board member. She was most recently a VP at Google, and is an early board member for Women in Product, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of women and nonbinary people in product roles. Through these experiences, she brings a balanced perspective on strategy and operations for ‘startup’ nonprofits as well as for more mature organizations. She is everything that USDR embodies — she is a true partner looking to enable others with her expertise without seeking credit, she has consistently worked to create opportunity for others, and she leads with curiosity. We are so thrilled and thankful that Avni has chosen to join us on the board of directors.

A final thanks goes to the remarkable folks at USDR. Each of you has played a role in sustaining the organization through this transition. In particular, allow me to return to the exceptional executive team. Despite an already full plate, Tina picked up the CEO baton from Jessica Cole four months ago. She has led with her characteristic grace and skill. Transitions can make organizations vulnerable in many ways, but because of Tina’s steady and caring hand, Hillary is taking the reins of a vibrant, healthy organization full of opportunity and optimism. Tina resumes her role as Chief Partnerships Officer as of April 3rd.

Likewise, Alex and Jess have selflessly been doing double and triple duty for far too long, and have borne these burdens with the dedication and expertise of true leaders. We are delighted that with Hillary on board, together they can build out the team that will make the organization’s next phase both high-impact and sustainable.

To everyone — volunteers, partners, staff, and supporters — please join me and Janette in welcoming Hillary and Avni to USDR. We can’t wait to celebrate the org’s achievements under their leadership on our fourth birthday!

With gratitude,



U.S. Digital Response
U.S. Digital Response

Connecting governments and nonprofits with pro bono technologists and assistance to quickly respond to the critical needs of the public.