FCW Forum | Innovation

4 programs that collect innovative ideas from government employees

Some of the best ideas for improving government might come from within government

Optimists believe that two or three data points constitute a trend. So here’s a trend: Ask frontline employees how to save money or why things don’t work and how to fix them.

Sixteen years ago, in the heyday of reinventing government, you had to go look to find good ideas. The reinvention team had a group of 250 career civil servants and a network of groups at each agency that did the looking. But today, we have the Internet. Here are several examples that agency leaders might look to as models.

The President’s SAVE Award. The White House announced a new award in mid-September. Employees on the front line with good ideas can send them directly to the Office of Management and Budget. What kind of ideas is the White House looking for? Anything that saves money, of course. It’s named the President’s SAVE Award, for Securing Americans Value and Efficiency.

Federal employees are invited to submit their ideas by Oct. 14 at www.saveaward.gov. The winner, to be announced in November, doesn’t get any money but does get to present his or her idea to President Barack Obama at the White House sometime in November.

VA Benefit Process Re-engineering. The Veterans Benefits Administration has been criticized for years for its slow benefits decision-making process. Veterans can wait years for a decision on their applications for benefits. There have been task forces, congressional hearings, critical news stories and angry veterans — all demanding change.

A few weeks ago, VA decided to ask the people who work in the system what needs to be fixed. In a Federal News Radio interview, the department's chief technology officer, Peter Levine, said VA has launched an Innovation Competition, in which 19,000 employees in the benefits office can offer their solutions. The winner does not receive a prize, but VA promises to fund his or her project.

TSA Idea Factory. Several years ago, the Transportation Security Administration asked its employees how to make the airport security operation better. It named the effort the TSA Idea Factory. It enables 43,000 employees spread across hundreds of airports to raise ideas online and share them with colleagues who can rate them as good ideas or not.

Four TSA staff members sort through 300 new ideas every month, bringing in the people with winning proposals to have them participate in implementing them.

Army Field Manuals. A variation of submitting good ideas is to change rules that don’t work. The Army is conducting a 90-day pilot program that uses wikis to allow soldiers to update seven of the 550 field manuals it uses. The idea is to gain input from the field, especially lessons being learned on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

Turning to employees for input and insight is not new, but Web 2.0 tools allow broader participation and quicker turnaround.

About the Author

John M. Kamensky is a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration. He can be reached at john.kamensky@us.ibm.com.

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Reader comments

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 Rodney Mouton Mohave Valley, AZ

We are at a critical crossroads of opportunity and we will never pass this way again. I work daily with the BLM and the NPS and know first hand of the lands they manage and the laws they administer. Their jobs can't be done without one of the largest fleets of vehicles in government service.

I find it despicable that we maintain our course of oil-dependency while our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, are sacrificing their lives at the hands of those whose efforts we finance. I stand an applaud the President's and Interior Secretary's convictions to move this country from foreign oil to domestically-produced alternative energy production.

I share those convictions; however, I I find the jaded sensibilities of those in DOI management positions tend to inhibit progress. Progress must be made before the next administration, whether that turns out to be 3 years or 7. If not done within that time frame our efforts could be for nought.

If we expect the domestic energy train to leave the station, I beg that consideration be given to converting the DOI fleet vehicles to CNG. This would show immediate results that wouldn't be encumbered by the environmental laws that shackle solar, wind and transmission projects, as necessary as those laws are. There are companies, such as Clean Energy (I have no ownership or corporate interests) who construct CNG stations and deliver the CNG. These stations can be constructed at each an every BLM Field Office and National Park Service facility.

Although Mr. Pickens' plan has much merit, it is dependent upon Congress' ability to put aside their partisan-indulgent interests in unified cooperation and the establishment of public mandates and regulations. A lengthy process at best with an undeterminable likelihood of success. There is only One miracle-maker.

We are in a position where we have the ability to make some immediate changes that would serve to turn tides and garner needed support of decision-makers, corporate visionaries, and the public at large. Once the public can see some results, only then will the train leave the station.

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 Marsha San Francisco

The government has had a suggestion program since time immemorial. The problem with asking for suggestions is that people suggest something that is not currently being done that they *think* will lead to improvement. Maybe they are right, maybe they are not. Alternatively, often it is possible to find someone who is already doing what needs to be done and is doing it better/faster/cheaper. We need better ways to identify these "best practices" and get the information to others who could use it.

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