The Rise of Agency Innovation Labs


In the 2016 budget, the Obama administration proposed more funding to help launch idea labs.

The White House wants more federal agencies to tap into the creative ideas floating around in their employees’ heads by launching innovation labs, according to a newly released administration strategy for boosting U.S. innovation. 

In recent years, an increasing number of agencies have jumped on the innovation lab bandwagon. In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched its Center for Innovation. The Office of Personnel Management followed suit in 2012, building a $1.1 million innovation-focused office in the basement of the agency's headquarters. Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a Global Development Lab.

The White House innovation report also name-checks the Department of Health and Human Services' IDEA Lab and the National Security Agency's "Incubation Cell."

“In many cases, the best ideas for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government operations, from hospital patient intake processes to benefits processing, come from tapping the expertise of federal employees,” the report concluded.

The administration wants to see even more agencies follow suit.

“A network of innovation labs can foster a culture of innovation at federal agencies by empowering and equipping agency employees and members of the public to implement their promising ideas to more effectively serve the American people,” the report stated. 

In the 2016 budget, the administration proposed more funding to help launch idea labs at the departments of Commerce, Education and Treasury departments, among others.

Innovation labs have also come under some criticism, however. 

A 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office concluded the OPM innovation lab hadn't done enough to measure the long-term impact on agency culture and performance or to evaluate the effectiveness of training sessions offered to employees. 

And just 37 percent of federal employees governmentwide say their agencies actually do a good job rewarding creativity and innovation, according to the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey released earlier this month.