GEAR Center’s First Projects Focus on Government’s Perennial Workforce Issues 


The research center’s first challenge winners aim to fill government openings with alternative talent and beef up the workforce’s data skills.  

The Trump administration Tuesday announced three awardees with solutions for major federal problems who also have ideas for how to go about tackling those issues in innovative ways.

The administration has been working to stand up a research center designed to attract private-sector innovators with ideas for solving the hardest problems in government. While that plan has been in development for some time, the structure of the center—dubbed the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center, or GEAR Center—has been up in the air. The three awardees announced Tuesday will kick off the first efforts in the program and set the stage for the future of the GEAR Center.

“The GEAR Center challenge is a creative approach that engages the U.S. research and development system to help government adapt and improve in a rapidly changing world,” General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy said in an announcement Tuesday. “It also helped form new partnerships between different industries. These impressive winners will bring innovation led by our world class universities and enterprises to influence how the federal government performs.”

Officials from GSA and the Office of Management and Budget selected three winners, each of which will receive $300,000 to pilot their solutions. The results will be twofold: Officials will get a sense of how future challenges and efforts should be structured, while at the same time testing out a potential solution to a real-world problem.

“GEAR Center Challenge submissions are promising examples of how innovative public-private partnerships can transform government mission delivery, service to citizens and stewardship,” OMB Deputy Director for Management and Office of Personnel Management acting Director Margaret Weichert said Tuesday. “The GEAR Center is already creating incentives for cross-sector collaborations that will better serve the American people.”

Tapping Neurodiversity for the Cyber Workforce

A team of academics and researchers from George Mason University, Mercyhurst University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, Drexel University, SAP, Specialisterne, DXC Dandelion Program and the MITRE Corporation will look at “a potential, untapped source of talent” to help fill the government’s cybersecurity workforce gaps: people with autism spectrum disorder and other “neurodiverse individuals.”

The team suggests neurodiverse people are well-suited to cybersecurity work and “can be more likely to be retained by federal agencies given their strong fit with cyber work.” The project will develop a Neurodiversity Cyber Workforce program to “identify, hire, onboard, train, support and retain neurodiverse individuals for cyber positions.”

Data to Improve Workforce Programs

The neurodiverse workforce program isn’t the only federal effort to help people get jobs. There is a myriad of workforce programs at the federal and state level, each of which collects massive amounts of data.

A team led by SkillSource Group and Third Sector Capital Partners will focus on ongoing data collection and integration programs at the state level to measure progress with Virginia Opportunity Youth, a program that helps people who received welfare services or were involved with the criminal justice system in their youth find jobs.

Better Training for Better Decision-Making

Agencies are under several mandates to apply data to the decision-making processes they go through every day. But finding, sorting and gleaning useful insights from data is not an innate skill.

The team from Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact, the Volcker Alliance’s Government-to-University Initiative and the Mid-America Regional Council will work with 250 federal workers in Kansas City to develop a new training regime focused on this issue. The result will be courses on data-based decision-making that can be shared and scaled across the federal government.

The government also announced five honorable mentions that did not get funding:

  • Unlocking the Value of Government Data—Deloitte, Google, University of Maryland and Datawheel collaborate to create “pop-up” data marketplaces.
  • Delivering the Workforce of the 21st Century—An initiative to reskill individuals for high-needs jobs by Launchcode.
  • Secure, Modern and Mission Capable Credentialing—A collaboration aiming to improve the customer experience and efficiency of the credentialing process between the Institute for Defense Analyses, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, West Virginia National Guard, WVReady, University of Maryland-Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, and Marshall University College of Information Technology and Engineering.
  • Using Data to Put People at the Center and Improve Outcomes—A collaboration hoping to enable the real-time use of administrative data between New America Public Interest Technology and Community Solutions.
  • Improving Grants Management Using Blockchain Technology—The MITRE Corporation.