Exploring Federal Competitions: Fostering Innovation and Excellence By: Kellie Brungard, GPC

Federal prize competitions are a means for federal agencies to crowdsource ideas and engage public innovators to develop innovative ideas and solutions to societal problems (referred to as competitions, prize competitions, challenge, or competition). According to Challenge.gov, the primary platform for managing competitions, “Longitude and ship navigation, Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, even initial designs for the U.S. Capitol and White House—all resulted from open prize competitions. Even those self-driving vehicles got their start in federal prize competitions too!” Other notable concepts derived from challenges include the “lunar loo” (space toilet), digital wallet interface, protections for fish from water infrastructure, opioid detection in the mail, and “getting out the count” for the most recent census. These competitions, organized by Federal agencies, encourage participation from individuals, businesses, and organizations, driving them to create groundbreaking solutions to complex problems. This blog post delves into the world of federal competitions, exploring their significance, impact, and considerations for interested organizations.

The Significance of Federal Competitions

Federal competitions are platforms for fostering innovation across multiple sectors and can even be led by multiple cooperating agencies with shared goals. They provide a structured framework where individuals and entities can showcase their talents, skills, and creative problem-solving abilities. By posing challenges and offering rewards (monetary and non-monetary), these competitions incentivize participants to push the boundaries of conventional thinking, leading to the development of innovative solutions to pressing issues.

Federal competitions promote collaboration and knowledge-sharing among diverse stakeholders. Participants often come from different backgrounds, bringing various perspectives to the table. Through collaboration, they can leverage each other’s strengths and expertise, resulting in more comprehensive and effective solutions.

In 1980, the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovations Act was passed, establishing an Office of Industrial Technology to promote technological development to advance the economic, environmental, and social well-being of the United States. Over the years, Congress has provided some Federal agencies with additional explicit authority to conduct prize competitions, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Commerce.

Impact on Innovation and Excellence

The impact of federal competitions on innovation and excellence cannot be overstated. These competitions have been instrumental in driving breakthroughs in fields such as technology, healthcare, and environmental sustainability. Prize competitions are to be widely advertised to encourage broad participation, including agency websites, social media, and Challenge.gov; competitions must publish a notice in the Federal Register, including the rules, eligibility, prize amount, process, and criteria. This open call for competitors encourages a culture of innovation, encourages continuous improvement, and advances key areas of societal importance. A unique element is the combination of agency and community members serving as competition judges, encouraging the voice of the population to be served in the decision-making.

Federal competitions spur economic growth by supporting the development of new technologies and solutions. Winners of these competitions often receive funding, resources, and support to further develop and commercialize their ideas. Multi-phase competitions may provide monetary awards to fund during subsequent phases that compensate awardees for their work, effort, and resources throughout the process. This not only benefits the participants but ensures adequate resources to support the project.

Considering Federal Competitions?

Subscribe the challenge.gov, a resource to look at current and archived challenges with criteria and application guidelines. This platform manages many federal competition submissions using a process similar to Login.gov. Here are key considerations if you are interested in competitions:

  • The process may take 8-12 months, so you will want to ensure that you can dedicate the time necessary to move an idea/project through it.
  • Does the size of the award match the effort, resources, and expertise needed for the project?
  • Is there an idea or problem needing a solution that might be appropriate for the challenge? Maybe it’s a new way of doing business or a project you want to test.
  • Are partners/collaborations needed to develop and implement the idea/solution? Do you have these partners, or will you need to seek them out?
  • Is there a dedicated staff/team to focus on the project?

New competitions are posted constantly, some with multi-phase processes that may be in progress with the next phases due.

One competition to highlight is the General Services Administration’s (GSA) “Access for All,” that is due August 30, 2024. GSA invites students in architecture and design programs to apply universal design ideas to reimagine a federal workspace that provides an accessible, barrier-free, and all-inclusive experience. A winning submission, which a jury panel would choose, would truly envision a design that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive to all. The participant will provide designs to showcase their ideas, which may include:

  1. Reconfiguring bathrooms to provide non-gender specific facilities;
  2. Reconfiguring secure entrances to the building to accommodate mobility-challenged people and their support systems (wheelchairs, canes, etc.);
  3. Applying way-finding concepts in signage and pathway boundaries for people with hearing, sight, and mobility disabilities; and
  4. Results Statement describing how their design demonstrates the value of true integrated design that balances aesthetics, cost, constructability, and reliability in a way that is environmentally friendly, makes for a superior accessible workplace and supports both civilians and federal employees.

Competitions are varied in their subject matter and designed to support new and innovative ideas, provide a mechanism for collaboration, raise the level of awareness in communities, and financially support projects. If you are interested in grant services, training, or federal review services, or our career opportunities, Julie Assel, CGMS, GPC, President/CEO, will be happy to talk with you about this opportunity and provide you with a quote for grant services.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Skill 1.1: Identify major trends in public funding and public policy

Skill 1.6: Identify fundable programs and projects for specific organization

Discover more from Assel Grant Services

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading