White House Unveils More Details About Proposed Modernization Center

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Officials expect to establish the future-focused GEAR Center in the next year.

The White House plans to take a hands-off approach to the day-to-day operations of its proposed government modernization research center, according to the federal management chief.

While officials expect the Government Effectiveness Applied Research, or GEAR, Center to focus its work on key aspects of the administration’s agenda, they don’t want bureaucracy to impede potential improvements to citizen services, said Margaret Weichert, deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Outdated acquisition and legal processes often stand in the way of bringing change to government, she said, but through an independent research center, private-sector experts could help fast-track testing and roll out solutions to many of the biggest issues agencies face today.

“Collaboration and co-creation are part of the norm of how people do business in the 21st century,” Weichert said Thursday on a phone call with reporters and potential vendors. “We want to … make that a possible reality for government.”

Proposed in June as part of the White House’s reorganization plan, the GEAR Center would bring together experts from government, academia and industry to research ways to speed up the government’s adoption of new technologies, improve citizen services and reskill federal employees for the digital age.

Weichert said the center will initially focus on key aspects of the president’s management agenda: IT modernization, cybersecurity, data management and workforce training.

While it aims to bring together the best and brightest to grapple with longstanding government issues, Weichert stressed the GEAR Center is not a “think tank.” Its success will be based on whether agencies can implement the solutions it delivers, she said.

“We want to emphasize at the end of the day this is about applied research in the government context,” she said. “We don’t just want to have … written diagnoses. We want to have pilots.”

The White House last month put out a request for information seeking input on the logistics of standing up the center, and on Thursday, OMB officials offered more details on their long-term plans for the program.

Weichert said the White House will provide the seed funding “in the low millions” to establish the center, but it would need outside investment to stay up and running. Still, OMB expects two federal officials to consistently hold seats on the center’s governing body to maintain the innovation pipeline to the government, she said.

Officials have yet to determine whether the center would be a brick-and-mortar facility or remote network of experts, but OMB Program Manager Mark Bussow said the agency is leaning towards a dispersed “consortium” model.

Responses to the RFI are due Sept. 14. Bussow said OMB expects to begin formally establishing the center next year.