Compete for fun and prizes: Agencies likely to get broad authority to run contests

Legislation intended to stimulate innovation

Federal agencies would gain broad authority for conducting prize competitions under the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act approved by both houses of Congress, according to White House officials.

President Barack Obama has been a strong supporter of idea contests as called for under his Strategy for American Innovation in 2009. Federal agencies have sponsored nearly 60 such competitions on Challenge.gov since that website was created in September.

The COMPETES legislation would “make it dramatically easier for agencies to use prizes and challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems and advance their core missions,” Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Robynn Sturm, adviser for open innovation, wrote Dec. 21 on the White House Open Government Blog.


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Using prizes to stimulate innovation has become a growing practice in the private sector. According to a recent McKinsey & Co. report, the total funds available from large prize competitions have more than tripled in the last decade to exceed $375 million.

The legislation would help the public sector in getting the benefits of prize competitions, Kalil and Sturm wrote.

In March, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo to agency directors providing a policy and legal framework for prize competitions. In September, the White House and General Services Administration started Challenge.gov, an online platform for publicizing prize competitions.

“The prize authority in the America COMPETES Act will further unleash the public sector’s ability to leverage prizes and challenges to spur innovation,” Kalil and Sturm wrote.

The bill also is intended to foster innovation by supporting basic scientific research and improving science, technology, engineering, and math education.

The original COMPETES law was signed by President George W. Bush in 2007. The reauthorization bill passed the House in May and was approved Dec. 17 by unanimous consent in the Senate.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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