Technology Popular Theme in Agency Competitions


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Agencies held twice as many contests and challenges in 2014 as they did in 2012, and the number of prizes also rose over those two years.

Last year, when NASA sought to come up with a new algorithm for detecting potentially hazardous asteroids barreling through our solar system, it turned to the wisdom of the crowd.

A series of contests and challenges -- total price tag: $200,000 -- resulted in a 15 percent improvement over the current method of asteroid detection and cost less than employing a full-time engineer over the same time period.

In recent years, federal agencies have increasingly turned to competitions to find innovative solutions for tough challenges.

Agencies held twice as many competitions in 2014 as they did in 2012, according to a new report from the Office of Science and Technology Policy on the state of federal agency's prize competitions and challenges. The number of agencies offering prizes also doubled over those two years.

The annual report examined nearly 100 prize competitions and challenges at 30 agencies.

In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which granted all agencies broad authority to conduct prize competitions. Among the benefits of competitions: Agencies “pay only for success” and can start with ambitious goals “without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed,” the report noted.

Technology was a common theme among competitions in 2014. More than one-third of agency competitions surveyed in the new report involved solutions in the form of software, apps, data visualization tools and algorithms.

For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services used a challenge to create a data exchange network to give health insurance-paying entities a private way to exchange information that could help better protect them from fraud and other types of abuses.

Still, there was a notable difference between the competitions conducted by agencies with at least three years’ experience compared to those new to the competition scene, according to the report. Experienced agencies often saw a notable increase in both entries and winners.

(Image via Chatchawan/