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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Five Tips from Federal Innovation Entrepreneurs

Using “lightning round” presentations, nearly a dozen presenters shared their stories. Andy Feldman from the Department of Education, who coordinated the event, noted that the goal wasn’t innovation for innovation’s sake, but rather to use innovation as a tool to tackle mission-related performance challenges: “We’re here to focus innovation on our agencies’ biggest challenges and opportunities.” Delegated Deputy Secretary of Education John King also welcomed attendees, urging them to put ideas into action.

As if to reinforce these messages, the same morning at a meeting of the President’s Management Council, deputy secretaries discussed way to expand the use of evidence, evaluation, and innovation in their agencies.  Several White House policy councils participated in the meeting, asking agencies to “articulate their strategy to advance the use of evidence in decision making . . . as a part of their budget submissions, due to OMB on September 14, 2015.”

Some of the useful insights from the various presentations at the Innovation Exchange session reflected issues discussed by the deputy secretaries, as well:

Use behavioral insights. Recent studies from behavioral economics and psychology have found that people do not always make rational decisions regarding their well-being.  But making it easier for people...

You’re Probably Doing Email Introductions Wrong

If you are introducing two people without using a double opt-in intro, you have a high likelihood of being a terrible person. Yup–I said it.

First, what’s a single opt-in intro?

Very simply, a single opt-in intro is where you are introduced to someone via email without them giving you a heads up prior and getting your consent to make the intro.

Let me explain using an example. In this example, Joe wants to introduce Jack to his friend Mary.

He sends an email to Mary and cc: Jack.

Hey Mary,

Wanted to introduce you to Jack (cc’d) who runs an “Uber for granite countertops”. They’re killing it and are really disrupting the granite space. They’re also making the world a better place.

Think you guys are doing similar things, tackling similar problems, etc. so you should chat.

I’ll leave it to you to connect.

Hope all is well.



This is a terrible introduction for a few reasons:

  • No respect for time: The email which takes Joe 30 seconds to write commits Mary’s time. Mary is supposed to get coffee or hop on the phone with Jack because Joe...

What It Will Take to Move the Needle on Reform

This is a good year for advocates of acquisition reform. The House and Senate fiscal 2016 defense authorization bills, traditionally the acquisition table setters, contain significant, forward-leaning reforms that are both overdue and essential.

The Senate bill in particular contains provisions that are designed to refocus the government toward broader use of commercial items and, in so doing, commercial best practices. This would open the door to new, innovative market participants, either independently or as part of a larger team, a more likely and logical route for government access to innovations that can actually drive broad systemic or programmatic change.

These are all positive steps. But the impact of these changes could be sharply limited if, for each major step forward, other actions or inaction stall the kind of reform that is so important.

In that sense, two issues stand out. First is the continued debate over imposing arbitrary limits on how much the Defense Department and civilian agencies should spend on services contracts. The alleged intent of these limits is to ensure that statutory government personnel limits are not sidestepped by agencies through additional contracting. While on the surface that may sound sensible and fair, as a performance metric...

Setting Your Own Schedule Actually Makes You Work More

Ah, the freedom of flexible work. Pick your own start and end times, and whether and how much you work at the office. It sounds pretty great in comparison to a regimented shift, or clocking in and out every day. It also indicates a level of trust by an employer.

Shift work is obviously necessary in some settings, notably retail and service jobs. But a growing number of companies leave things up to their employees.

But employers are getting plenty out of the arrangements. People that have full and unrecorded control over their schedules work the equivalent of nearly a full weekday beyond what’s in their contracts and in comparison to those who have fixed schedules, according to a large German data set that’s the subject of a new working paper (PDF) on the effects of scheduling freedom.

Here’s the average amount workers put in over what they’re contracted for on a weekly basis in Germany, based on data collected from 2003 to 2011

That workers with fixed daily hours don’t work much beyond their contract hours shouldn’t be surprising. Firms likely set those hours for a reason (to avoid overtime, for example).


Why Plugging the Cyber Breach Is the 2nd Biggest Problem at OPM

Beth Cobert has just walked into the toughest job in Washington. Tens of millions of federal employees and their families have had their personal information stolen. Members of Congress have called into question the competence of the Office of Personnel Management in allowing the cyber breach to happen -- or in figuring out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In fact, OPM -- established to serve the government’s employees -- is being sued by the unions representing some of them.

In stepping in as acting director, Cobert has a monumental problem on her desk. President Obama couldn’t possibly have named anyone better for the job. But as hugely important as this job is, it’s the second most important one she faces.

That’s certainly not because the cyber breach is a second-banana problem. It’s an enormous crisis because it affects every federal employee, directly or indirectly, as well as individuals considering whether they might want to become one. In dealing with it, Cobert will have plenty of help: from the FBI, the Homeland Security Department, the director of Office of National Intelligence, and surely from the National Security Agency and the CIA. In fact, she’ll...