Remembering the human element in innovation

Innovation is not just about technology. And for an administration that prides itself on its drive to innovate, there is still room for improvement.

"It's heavily technology focused," said Kathryn Stack, adviser for evidence-based innovation at the Office of Management and Budget, in an interview. "The difficulty is that the guts of so many government processes about how we do grants, contracts, procurement and how we manage communications in agencies -- a lot of it hasn't really been touched by innovation."

However, the budget crunch could act as a catalyst for rethinking how government performs operations that until now have seemed off limits, largely because many of the mission-support offices have not been given clear direction, Stack added.

"There's a huge fear of taking risks, and until we can create that safe space that says 'this is such an important area,' we've got to try some different things and take risks," she said, adding that success hinges on the support of agency inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office and Congress.

Furthermore, leaders should look within their agencies for solutions instead of automatically turning to outside contractors when qualified federal employees are available, Stack said.

"It's millions of dollars," she added. "It's only recently we stepped back and realized we've got resources in the agencies -- people who have all the skills at much lower costs."

In addition, agencies often waste money hiring contractors to address specific issues when experts at other agencies could have provided a solution, Stack said during a keynote speech at the IBM Government Analytics Forum on May 22 in Washington.

Analytics in government can look like a chicken-and-egg scenario. "First you run your program, and then you create some analytical capability," she said. "When you finally do analysis, it's often in crisis mode, and you go and hire a contractor and it costs a lot of money."

Agencies should build their internal analytical and evaluation capacity and then demonstrate the value of it to garner the support of Congress and GAO, she added.

She acknowledged that the situation is not very different at OMB, where she runs a small team that could be thought of as discretionary because it isn't mission-critical.

"We face the same struggles," Stack said.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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