New HHS CTO Wants Employees to Devote Time to Passion Projects

Gil C/

In her first month as CTO, Susannah Fox proposed the department structure time for employee-driven creative projects in each operating division.

The Department of Health and Human Services' new chief technology officer wants to infuse the roughly 90,000-person agency with some Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial spirit.

In her first few weeks on the job, CTO Susannah Fox issued a list of proposals intended to address a “continued need for culture change at HHS."

Her suggestions include:

  • Finding ways to reward managers who recognize innovation within their divisions
  • Implementing "creativity zones" in each division, which might mean allowing employees time to work on new ideas. ("We’d like to see each operating division allow employees to submit proposals for solutions they’d like to test, and then provide protected time for those employees to test out their ideas," Fox wrote in an HHS blog post. "Private sector organizations, such as Google, use this method to promote creativity – and reap the benefits (Gmail began as a '20 percent time' project)," she added.
  • Maintaining "innovation awards programs" in each division. By next year, Fox wrote, officials would like each operating division to nominate, and potentially present, its top innovation to the HHS secretary and to the public.
  • Working with the White House to "help innovators move more fluidly across the department and outside of HHS," to ultimately "allow employees to gain valuable experiences outside of their home offices."
  • Making open source development standard for IT projects
  • Revamping internal calendar and email systems, because a "major barrier to cross-departmental collaboration is our inability to share calendars, schedule cross-agency meetings, or work virtually across the HHS network."
  • Involving representatives from each operating division in the "HHS Innovation Council" to share ideas about fostering a creative culture

A recent HHS employee survey found that only 61 percent felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways to do their jobs, Fox wrote. Efforts to change internal culture must be "embedded into the fabric of the department," reaching even the IT systems used to organize schedules, she added. 

(Image via Gil C/

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