4 programs that collect innovative ideas from government employees

Some of the best ideas for improving government might come from within government, writes IBM's John Kamensky.

Optimists believe that two or three data points constitute a trend. So here’s a trend: Ask frontline employees how to save money or why things don’t work and how to fix them.

Sixteen years ago, in the heyday of reinventing government, you had to go look to find good ideas. The reinvention team had a group of 250 career civil servants and a network of groups at each agency that did the looking. But today, we have the Internet. Here are several examples that agency leaders might look to as models.

The President’s SAVE Award. The White House announced a new award in mid-September. Employees on the front line with good ideas can send them directly to the Office of Management and Budget. What kind of ideas is the White House looking for? Anything that saves money, of course. It’s named the President’s SAVE Award, for Securing Americans Value and Efficiency.

Federal employees are invited to submit their ideas by Oct. 14 at www.saveaward.gov. The winner, to be announced in November, doesn’t get any money but does get to present his or her idea to President Barack Obama at the White House sometime in November.

VA Benefit Process Re-engineering. The Veterans Benefits Administration has been criticized for years for its slow benefits decision-making process. Veterans can wait years for a decision on their applications for benefits. There have been task forces, congressional hearings, critical news stories and angry veterans — all demanding change.

A few weeks ago, VA decided to ask the people who work in the system what needs to be fixed. In a Federal News Radio interview, the department's chief technology officer, Peter Levine, said VA has launched an Innovation Competition, in which 19,000 employees in the benefits office can offer their solutions. The winner does not receive a prize, but VA promises to fund his or her project.

TSA Idea Factory. Several years ago, the Transportation Security Administration asked its employees how to make the airport security operation better. It named the effort the TSA Idea Factory. It enables 43,000 employees spread across hundreds of airports to raise ideas online and share them with colleagues who can rate them as good ideas or not.

Four TSA staff members sort through 300 new ideas every month, bringing in the people with winning proposals to have them participate in implementing them.

Army Field Manuals. A variation of submitting good ideas is to change rules that don’t work. The Army is conducting a 90-day pilot program that uses wikis to allow soldiers to update seven of the 550 field manuals it uses. The idea is to gain input from the field, especially lessons being learned on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

Turning to employees for input and insight is not new, but Web 2.0 tools allow broader participation and quicker turnaround.