Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Holiday Season Merrimack Making

    On December 8th, along with Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh, I hosted my second “Entrepreneurs’ Town Hall” to hear first hand about the challenges and opportunities confronting founders on “Main Street” (read about the first Town Hall here, or check out the video).  Nearly 100 entrepreneurs from the Merrimack Valley area in northern Massachusetts participated as we gathered to celebrate the launch of an exciting new philanthropic initiative—the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, an effort designed to foster an innovation ecosystem through the region’s leading universities and community colleges.

    Endowed with a $5M grant from famed entrepreneur Desh Deshpande (who also serves as Co-Chair of the National Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship), the Sandbox will provide leadership training, seed funding and capacity-building support to organizations and individuals in the region.

    We will post video from the town hall soon, but here are a few highlights:

    Clean Tech Entrepreneurs Commercialize Federal Research:  I heard from Peter Vandermeulen, CEO of the local startup 7AC Technologies, who shared his favorable experience working with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Although it took nearly a year to finalize, Peter was pleased to have had the opportunity to commercialize technology that he posits could cut in half the use of energy for heating and cooling of buildings. His advice on how we might improve our commercialization efforts was to evaluate the process of determining when an exclusive license might be granted to “kick-start” an entrepreneurial venture. I’ve taken that message back to our team for consideration.

    Open Government Fuels Entrepreneurship:  One of the highlights of my trip was hearing from Conor White-Sullivan, CEO of Localocracy. A graduate of UMass-Amherst, this charismatic entrepreneur talked about his startup’s recent partnership with the Boston Globe to link open government platforms with local media. His idea is a new model of civic engagement—one in which identified members of the community express their views and invite public participation on key issues facing the neighborhood, came to him during a 1-credit course in school, he said.  His approach was, of course, music to my ears, as it has been a high Obama Administration priority to step up efforts to leverage technology for citizen participation. His request was to simplify access to voter registration data, as that is the “fuel” for his identity system. I’ve tasked our open government team to conduct due diligence on this matter.

    Importance of SBIR as a Vehicle for Early Stage Capital:  Several entrepreneurs at the forum spoke of the advantages of the Small Business Investment Research program as a source of capital at the stage of business maturation when it is difficult to gain access to capital. Thaddeus Fulford-Jones, CEO of Locately, spoke of the ease with which he won a National Science Foundation SBIR grant within 5-6 months of applying. But it was a story told by Robert Goldberg—a Partner at Neumitra—that commanded my most immediate attention.

    Robert expressed concern that his primary information source on SBIR grant opportunities, SBIR.gov, was down for maintenance with a message alerting visitors that it would be months before the site could be re-launched. This was unfortunate as it meant he had to sift through each Federal agency’s solicitations page to learn of opportunities.

    Thanks to the leadership of NSF’s new Director, Dr. Subra Suresh, and his terrific team, including Tom Peterson, Kesh Narayanan, and Cheryl Albus, the site went live last week.

    I was encouraged by the degree to which our Nation’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the Merrimack Valley—a great reminder that innovation flourishes in all corners of our country if we nurture the right components of the ecosystem—and I am keen to address the myriad concerns that emerged throughout the discussion. In that spirit, I wish to extend my deepest thanks to the Deshpande Foundation, which helped arrange for our town hall, and to the entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners who participated. Happy holidays to all, and here is to an innovative and entrepreneurial New Year!

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer

  • Congress Grants Broad Prize Authority to All Federal Agencies

    The America COMPETES Act passed by Congress today provides all agencies with broad authority to conduct prize competitions as called for by President Obama in his 2009 Strategy for American Innovation.  By giving agencies a simple and clear legal path, the America COMPETES Act will make it dramatically easier for agencies to use prizes and challenges to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions.

    In a world of widely dispersed knowledge, prizes and challenges are an essential tool for every agency’s toolkit.  As the co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy once famously said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” This fact calls for a fundamental shift in the way an institution solves problems. Prizes and challenges are part of the solution. 

    A recent McKinsey report found that the private sector and a new generation of philanthropists are embracing prizes. Catalyzed by new crowd sourcing technologies, investments in prize competitions have increased significantly in recent years.  According to the study, more than 60 prizes of at least $100,000 each made their debuts from 2000 to 2007, representing almost $250 million in new prize money. 

    As the Wall Street Journal recently concluded, “These prizes have proliferated because they actually work.”  Specifically, well-designed prizes allow the sponsor to dramatically increase the number and diversity of minds tackling a tough problem, to articulate a bold goal without having to predict the team or approach that is most likely to succeed, and to only pay for results.

    Despites these benefits, the public sector have been slow to reap the benefits of open innovation strategies. The Obama Administration is committed to change that.

    On his very first day in office, the President set out new principles for the way government works. Recognizing that the problems of the 21st century are too great to be solved by government alone, he called for an “all hands on deck” approach that taps the “distributed intelligence” of the Nation.

    In September 2009, in his Strategy for American Innovation, President Obama expanded on these principles to explicitly call on agencies to increase their use of prizes and challenges to solve tough problems. In March, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum to all agency heads affirming the Administration’s commitment to this problem-solving approach and providing a policy and legal framework to guide agencies in using prizes to stimulate innovation to advance their core missions. And, in September 2010, the White House and the General Services Administration launched Challenge.gov, a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough national problems, large and small.

    As a result, 2010 has witnessed widespread government experimentation with prizes.  In its first 3 months, Challenge.gov featured 57 challenges from 27 agencies across the Executive Branch, generating novel solutions for childhood obesity, advanced vehicle technologies, financing for small businesses, Type One Diabetes, and many other national priorities.

    The prize authority in the America COMPETES Act will further unleash the public sector’s ability to leverage prizes and challenges to spur innovation.  Stay tuned to Challenge.gov for new developments in the New Year!

    In the meantime, you can read more about today’s passage of the America COMPETES Act on the OSTP blog and find the full text of the final bill here.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director

  • CTO Forum: Meeting Held to Discuss Opportunities for Collaboration

    Yesterday, I and a number of my colleagues engaged in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation had the pleasure of hosting a meeting with Chief Technology Officers from a dozen of the Nation’s most innovative technology firms.  Our intention was to explore collaboration opportunities that would foster more digital infrastructure investment, unleash a mobile broadband revolution, and encourage innovations in health, energy, and education powered by technology.

    We were particularly interested in feedback on how government might support such efforts acting as a convener—on open data, voluntary consensus standards, and prizes & challenges associated with R&D investment, for example.

    Participants included individuals engaged in the design and deployment of critical technology infrastructure that will serve as an important foundation for America’s long-term economic future. During our conversation, we surfaced a number of areas worthy of pursuit, including engagement in our recently announced Requests for Information on standards, the Networking & Information Technology R&D review published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology, and the President’s Spectrum Initiative.

    The comments shared during this meeting will inform our ongoing efforts to execute on the President’s Innovation Strategy and I’m confident they will translate into tangible actions in the coming weeks and months.

    I would like to personally thank the incredibly busy and talented leaders who took the time to prepare and discuss these matters. Their commitment reinforced my faith in our ability to collaborate in the advancement of America’s technology-driven future.

    Technology CTO Roundtable Attendees:
    Vanu Bose, Vanu, Inc.
    John Donovan, AT&T
    Shaygan Kheradpir
    Dick Lynch, Verizon Communications
    Jeff Nick, EMC
    Roberto Padovani, Qualcomm
    Justin Rattner, Intel
    Geoff Roman, Motorola Mobility
    Pradeep Sindhu, Juniper Networks
    Scott Teissler, Turner Broadcasting
    Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent
    Tony Werner, Comcast
    Barry West, Coverage Company

  • Transparency for Global Development

    Today the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Version 1.0 of the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a new platform devoted to making it easier than ever for policymakers, civil society, and the public to understand U.S. investments and their impact around the globe. The Dashboard—the latest milestone in the Obama Administration’s commitment to create an unprecedented level of openness in Government—promises to advance U.S. goals for global development and broader prosperity by shining a light on how much foreign assistance is provided, for what purposes, and with what result. To find out more about it, check out today’s blog on the OSTP site.

  • Designing for Democracy

    On his first full day in office, the President signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which directed Executive departments and agencies to “offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information.” President Obama is committed to tapping ideas from the American people to make government work smarter, better, and more efficiently. At its heart, open government is about changing the relationship between government and the American people.

    One vexing challenge to engaging Americans in governance has been finding new models and tools for the next generation of citizen consultation.  We want to take advantage of the latest technology to: 1) enable government officials to circulate notice of opportunities to participate in public consultations to members of the public with expertise on a topic; and 2) provide those citizen experts with a mechanism to provide useful, relevant, and manageable feedback to government officials.

  • Cost-Cutter Wins 2010 SAVE Award

    Through the SAVE Award (which stands for Securing American’s Value and Efficiency) the Office of Management and Budget challenged Federal employees to submit their ideas to streamline government and save tax dollars. The winner, announced today, is Trudy Givens of Portage, Wisconsin, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Given the fast-growing number of people who access the Federal Register online, Trudy suggested that the Federal Register no longer be mailed by default to 8,000 Federal employees every workday. While statute requires that hard copies be available, allowing recipients to opt-in for hard copy delivery could yield savings associated with printing and postage. Trudy’s idea was selected as the winner from more than 18,000 submissions. As the 2010 winner, she will be invited to meet the President and discuss her idea with him in person.

    The SAVE Award is just the latest milestone in the Administration’s commitment to increase the use of prizes and challenges to tap the Nation’s top talent and best ideas. To learn more about the 2010 SAVE Award, check out Jeff Zients’ post “And the Top SAVER is….”  To learn more about Federal prizes and challenges, visit Challenge.gov.