A White House research center proposed to bring together government, industry and academia to improve the work of the federal government will likely take one of two forms, according to officials who spoke at a Dec. 12 briefing.

The Government Advanced Research Center was first proposed in the June 2018 Trump reorganization plan for the federal government, and soon became one of the top priorities for administration officials. A request for information on how best to construct the GEAR Center was opened in August.

Based on feedback provided through the RFI, the Office of Management and Budget developed two potential formats for the new center: a networked model that has priorities set by a federal government board and a centralized model that has priorities set by a cross-sector board.

In the first model the federal board — potentially the already existing President’s Management Council — sets government priorities for innovation.

Then a network of centers — made up of government at all levels, plus industry and academia, and divided by either region or mission areas — forms projects to address those priorities. Each center would be responsible for arranging its own partnerships.

Solutions are then sent back to the board for dispersal across the federal government where needed.

In the second model, the GEAR Center’s managing board is made up of government at all levels, plus industry and academia, though they are advised of federal priorities by the PMC. A single nongovernmental center would then work with the board to establish projects and offer potential solutions, which are then provided to federal agencies.

The networked model received the greatest amount of support in the original RFI.

Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at OMB, said that she hopes to stand up a preliminary GEAR Center sometime in 2019, which would require some seed funding in the immediate future.

Weichert acknowledged that this timetable, though aggressive, would be important for demonstrating the value of the center early on and quickly turning around solutions.

Because of that quick turnaround, OMB also sketched out a preliminary model for the GEAR Center that would be adjustable once it had proven itself in pilot.

That model would have the PMO set federal priorities and work with pilot partners in areas like reskilling the workforce and deriving value from government data to implement a couple of test projects.

To test how the GEAR Center might operate and interact with agencies, OMB will be working with two already established projects: the National Science Foundation’s Career Compass Challenge and potential reforms to federal acquisition.

Weichert said that no matter the format, she wants the center to have a fully agile mentality, where projects are stood up rapidly around small test areas and have the freedom to fail or succeed quickly so that the federal government can learn what might work for the whole.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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