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Challenges, prizes to play larger role in agency problem-solving

Jan. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
NASA awarded $250,000 in 2009 to Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine for the design of a more flexible astronaut glove.
NASA awarded $250,000 in 2009 to Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine for the design of a more flexible astronaut glove. (Andy Medici/Federal Times)

Challenges, contests and prizes will become a bigger part of how agencies develop solutions to their problems, according to federal officials.

GSA announced Jan. 23 it was selected as the winner of the Innovations in American Government Award by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University for its work developing the contest and award platform

John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at the event challenges allow agencies to pay only for results outside of the traditional procurement process.

“Prizes and challenges are being integrated into the fabric of how we do business in the government,” Holdren said. Agencies across government are crafting additional guidance to help spur the use of challenges, he said.

“Agencies need to keep seeking new ways to use prizes as tools to advance their missions and help solve the great challenges facing societies today,” Holdren said.

Agencies have used to support more than 300 contests and have drawn 42,000 participants and 3.6 million visits to the website, according to GSA.

Some of the challenges included:

■ A 2009 award by NASA to anyone who could develop a more flexible astronaut glove capable of performing a wide array of tasks in the vacuum of space.

■ A contest to see who can build the best app to help track personal financial issues that led to the development of an app to track and pay for student loans.

■ An ongoing challenge from the Health and Human Services Department to develop a model to predict future influenza outbreaks based on publicly available data.

Dan Tangherlini, GSA administrator, said he sees the first 300 challenges as a baseline for future efforts and evidence for agencies that they can use to help solve a broad range of problems.

“It’s a fantastic way of really changing the way we go to market and ask for problems to be solved,” Tangherlini said.

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