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Moving the Needle on Government Innovation via a Centers of Excellence Model

Aug 14, 2017 5 Min. Read

The Office of American Innovation (OAI) is proposing an initiative that could drive research, best practices, and solution development in key areas of government.

In a recent meeting at the Partnership for Public Service (PPS), Chris Liddell, White House Director of Strategic Initiatives and member of the Office of American Innovation (OAI), started to make the case for a centers of excellence model for government innovation. The model, says Liddell, would focus structure, attention, and resources around multiple centers of excellence that drive research, best practices, and solution development in key areas of government innovation. It would likely combine federal government and private sector capabilities as a means of developing centralized entities with specific expertise. 

We've seen the value of successful collaboration between public and private sector teams first hand via collaboration with the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC). ACT-IAC, a non-profit established to improve government through better technology use — created communities of interest (COIs), which provide government-driven, objective, vendor-neutral forums for government and industry to communicate and collaborate. The current COIs help enhance government operations including acquisition, cloud, customer experience, cybersecurity, digital enablement, emerging technologies, human capital management, shared services, IT modernization, networks, and innovation management (through the Institute for Innovation).

As OAI moves forward, they should take a page from the ACT-IAC playbook. Here are some practical considerations for them to keep in mind.

  1. Build upon existing government – industry collaborations. Administration mandates and broadly recognized needs can drive resource acquisition for centers of excellence. Consider, for instance, that the challenge of recruiting and retaining technical talent has been widely acknowledged as a barrier to government IT modernization and innovation. Legislative mandates and agency-recognized challenges tell us there is a compelling need for a center of excellence for evolving the workforce. As a result, House appropriators are pushing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for ideas on how to overhaul the federal hiring process. The ACT-IAC Evolving the Workforce COI has a conceptual model for talent-as-a-service under development that changes the federal approach for recruiting and hiring. Talent-as-a-service is an innovative HR business model that could easily engender a specialized center of excellence
  2. Test disruptive business models beyond shared services. Any efforts to establish additional centers of excellence should consolidate high-demand skills and technical expertise, but they should also seek opportunities to test disruptive business models that can accelerate time to value. Innovative operating models like the US Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) don’t just demonstrate expertise in a high-demand discipline (in this case, a full suite of cutting-edge data services) — they also provide a differentiated and disruptive acquisition model for services.  By using pre-established joint venture partnerships with a wide range of industry leaders and a highly streamlined acquisition process, NTIS enables agencies to reduce the time between identifying a need and receiving tangible value.
  3. Identify where resources are being expended and work to expand capabilities and access. Centers of excellence are more likely to succeed if they build upon the capabilities of successful existing organizations. To that end, OAI should identify and invest in these foundational organizations rather than starting brand new ones. Cybersecurity is a prime example of a potential early focus area for a center of excellence given the attention it’s received from legislators and the federal government’s demonstrated need for more stringent cybersecurity measures. The Army Research Laboratory (ARL), a leader in cutting edge cyber research, provisions operational cybersecurity services for network defense. If OAI develops a cybersecurity center of excellence, they might expand the ARL model. This center of excellence approach would enable OAI to provide more direct service to a wider array of civilian and defense agency clients, as well as to more efficiently disseminate their best practices for adoption.

We applaud OAI’s recognition of the potential for centers of excellence to drive innovation across government. Its measured approach to identifying the most viable areas for early progress is commendable. As the initiative moves beyond concept to implementation, we encourage building upon active government-industry collaborations such as ACT-IAC COIs that are reimagining the federal service delivery model and can provide valuable insights into the creation and cultivation of centers of excellence for government innovation.

What would you recommend to help OAI move the needle on government centers for excellence? What strategies should they prioritize as the concept comes to fruition? Tell us what you think on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.