Government Executive Magazine - 9/7/00 House panel seeks to unlock secrets of innovation

Winners of one of the country's most prestigious public service awards have involved stakeholders and used the latest technology to create programs that can be readily duplicated by other government organizations, several experts told a House panel Wednesday.

Since 1986, the Innovations in American Government Awards, which are funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, have honored creative government programs that help solve economic and social problems. Winning programs must be original, effective and capable of being replicated nationwide.

Last month, the 25 finalists for this year's awards-including five federal programs-were announced. Each finalist will be eligible for an award of $20,000, and the 10 winners will each receive an additional $80,000.

During the hearing, participants discussed examples of successful government programs at the local, state and federal levels in an effort to learn from their successes.

Patricia McGinnis, president of the Council for Excellence in Government, hailed a program that enables Virginia residents to renew their driver's licenses online. "We see a growing trend among winners when it comes to using technology to achieve results," she said.

Gail C. Christopher, executive director of the awards program, praised the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's use of innovative technology to apply safety and health regulations to specific workplaces and the agency's willingness to listen to its stakeholders in the private sector.

OSHA was named a 2000 finalist for its Interactive Expert Advisors Software Program, which helps business owners understand complicated OSHA regulations.

"There is less focus on individual programs, and more on fundamental shifts in how governments frame and approach problems. This type of innovation, a more holistic approach, may in the long run be more sustainable than advocacy for isolated programs," Christopher said.

Barry D. Gaberman, senior vice president at the Ford Foundation, said 85 percent of the award-winning programs have been duplicated by other government organizations. For example, the Police Homeowners Loan Program of Columbia, S.C., has been adapted in more than 70 municipalities and agencies nationwide.

Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, asked witnesses how the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act could help agencies create original and sustainable programs.

McGinnis praised GPRA, a law that requires agencies to set performance goals and submit annual reports to Congress on their progress, but said regulations under the law need to be clarified to help agencies improve compliance.

GPRA, McGinnis said, "is a management tool that needs to be used more actively by appropriating and authorizing committees when they decide what agencies to fund."

Along with OSHA, four other federal agencies made it into the final round of this year's innovations awards: the Office of Personnel Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Veterans Health Administration.

More than 1,300 applicants from federal, state, county and city governments, school districts, tribal governments and government corporations vied for this year's top prize. Winners will be announced on Oct. 13.

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