Wins “Innovations in American Government” Award


OSTP Director John P. Holdren congratulated the General Services Administration's team for its selection as recipient of the Innovations in American Government Award from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University on January 23, 2014, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Cristin Dorgelo)

Today, Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation announced as winner of the prestigious 2013 “Innovations in American Government Award” in honor of exemplary service and creativity in the public interest.

This award further highlights our excitement about the innovations being unleashed by public prizes and challenges, and the value of these solutions being developed by citizen solvers to address tough problems.

Since its launch in September 2010 by the General Services Administration (GSA), has become a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs and citizen solvers can find public-sector prize competitions. The website has been used by nearly 60 Federal agencies to source solutions to over 300 incentive prizes and challenges and to engage more than 42,000 citizen solvers.

In celebration of the award, stakeholders from across the Federal Government as well as the nonprofit and private sectors, gathered at GSA headquarters in Washington, DC, this morning for a ceremony which featured remarks from OSTP Director John P. Holdren, GSA Administrator Tangherlini, Harvard University’s Stephen Goldsmith, and Innovation Awards committee member Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The ceremony also showcased examples of innovative citizen-developed solutions, including a display featuring a flexible astronaut glove designed by an entrepreneur in response to a challenge from NASA in 2009—along with a host of other prize-winning gadgets.

A few of the prizes hosted to date on include:

  • Robocall Challenge:  In October 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the Robocall Challenge with a $50,000 prize for the individual or group that could come up with the best technical proposal to help consumers block illegal robocalls. In April 2013, the FTC announced the winners of its Robocall Challenge. “Nomorobo”, one of the winning proposals, is a solution, developed by citizen solver Aaron Foss, which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. This second line can identify and hang up on illegal robocalls before they could ring through to users. Nomorobo has over 25,000 users and is protecting more than 18,000 phone lines from over 48,000 robocalls per week. Nomorobo is working with phone carriers to bring this service to additional customers as soon as possible. Aaron emphasizes that he never would have worked on the robocall problem if not for the challenge.
  • Astronaut Glove Challenge: In the pressure suits that astronauts must wear while performing a spacewalk, one of the toughest parts to design are the gloves. Peter Homer and his startup spacesuit company Flagsuit LLC won the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) $450,000 prize purse for designing an improved, flexible glove for use by NASA’s astronauts. Peter had been an entrepreneur, satellite designer, sailmaker, microgravity experiment designer, and local community center director. Since winning the competition, Flagsuit LLC has signed an agreement with NASA to develop and test improved spacesuit gloves.
  •  My Air, My Health Challenge: With $160,000 in prizes offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), the My Air, My Health Challenge was a multidisciplinary call to innovators to create a personal, portable, near-real-time, location-specific system to monitor and report air pollutants and potentially-related health events. Judges unanimously awarded the $100,000 prize to the team of David Kuller, Gabrielle Dockterman, and Dot Kelly for their Conscious Clothing prototype, which could cost users as little as $20. Its affordable price, comfort, and near-invisibility make it attractive not only to researchers and communities, but to individuals looking to take charge of their own health.

We look forward to agencies continuing to seek new ways to use prizes as tools to advance their missions and to help solve the grand challenges facing society.

Congratulations on today’s award to the team, all of the Federal agencies who have offered prizes and challenges on since its launch, and to the tens of thousands of citizen solvers who have participated to date.  Let’s keep up the good work!

In December, OSTP released its second annual comprehensive report detailing benefits reaped from the increasing use of prizes and competitions by Federal agencies.  You can learn more about the prize competitions being run across the Federal Government by visiting and watching the highlights video below.

Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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