Challenge.gov keeps eyes on the prize

At age 5, Challenge.gov is opening doors to the federal market for problem solvers, but it may never be a vehicle for large-scale IT projects.

Kelly Olson

Kelly Olson, senior innovation advisor and director at Challenge.gov.

Like any five-year-old, Challenge.gov is eager to explore new things.

But the General Services Administration's online pay-for-performance crowdsourcing solutions portal, designed to inject innovation into the acquisitions process, is finding that some activities are just too complex for this early stage of life.

Challenge.gov was added to the contracting mix by the White House in 2010, to offer a non-traditional path into the federal marketplace. The anchor site lists federal prize competitions aimed at solving federal agencies IT and technical challenges. More to the point, the competitions offer cash rewards for the most innovative private and public sector experts to craft technical solutions without having to invest in development or staffing to do the same in-house.

"Instead of paying first and hoping a solution is delivered, GSA's approach minimizes risk and encourages creativity by inducing dozens and sometimes hundreds of potential solutions and leaving the government agency free to pick the best before delivering a reward," Kelly Olson, senior innovation advisor and director for Challenge.gov at GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, told FCW. "It's an approach that opens up space for individuals and smaller businesses to shine in a sector often crowded out by big companies."

Olson maintains the platform is a  success. In a September blog post, she noted that some 80 agencies have used it since it was rolled out in 2010, launching more than 440 challenges, with total prizes topping $150 million.

Top Challenge.gov competitions from FY 2014
Project Total Prize
SunShot Prize: Race to 7-Day Solar $10,000,000
DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge $9,750,000
Rebuild by Design $2,000,000
The SunShot Catalyst Program $1,005,000
National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition $600,000
FDA Food Safety Challenge (2014) $500,000
NIH Follow that Cell $500,000
CDC No-Petri-Dish Diagnostic Test Challenge $200,000
American Energy Data Challenge $170,000
CDC Predict the Influenza Season Challenge $75,000

Some 200,000 solvers -- a mix of entrepreneurs, budding citizen scientists, students and others -- have participated in these challenges to solve important local, national and global problems, said Olson, who's been heading up Challenge.gov since January 2015.

Over the summer, she said, federal agencies posted more than 20 new challenges on the site, ranging from apps that use open data to help farmers feed the country, to a search for algorithms to detect electromagnetic pulses and help predict earthquakes.

Despite the successes, however, some observers are a little skeptical the site has significantly moved the needle to rev up innovation in federal acquisition.  Others said that gauging its impact requires metrics more subtle than measuring the total number of participants.

"It’s a tough question," Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement said when asked if Challenge.gov has had a significant impact on the way federal agencies acquire IT services. "The things being done are on a small scale," but to have an optimal impact, such efforts must have a larger strategic mission.

One federal CIO told FCW on background that the program was not really made to develop intricate replacements for legacy IT projects, but could offer down and dirty solutions and produce new, more user-friendly interfaces to those larger systems.

"[While] you can do challenges for a better user interface to the old systems," the CIO said, "the old system itself eventually needs hard work to get the data out and make sense of where business processes need to be recreated on a new cloud platform and things like that."

Users do come to Challenge.gov to develop solutions for large-scale IT projects, Olson said, and noted that she’s working hard to get challenges that go beyond logo redesigns, photo competitions and other relatively easy lifts.

Bigger projects present a potential problem, Olson acknowledged. For one thing, agencies might not want to publicly offer Challenge.gov solvers the kind of detailed look into internal operations that would be required for enterprise-wide IT solutions.

However, Olson said Challenge.gov is working with GSA’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, the government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services, to solicit an open-source tool for quality checks of FedRAMP documentation. That tool, she said, is intended to completely automate the current manual review process that can take over 40 hours to complete. It will cost a fraction of what a traditional procurement would, as well as take significantly less time to develop and tap into a broad public network to participate, according to Olson. This will enable the team to select from multiple solutions and award the prize money to the one that meets the criteria.

And Challenge.gov is due for some change itself, according to Olson.

"In five years, Challenge.gov will be a broader umbrella across government,” she said -- one that will offer crowd sourcing, open-source solutions, and new innovative tools for agencies. The program is also adding a mentorship program that will tap 16 people now working across the federal government at various agencies for specific expertise, like legal issues, prized design and other capabilities.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.