The OMB Prize Memo

OMB deputy director for management ,Jeff Zients, released a 12-page memo, “Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government.”

Jason Miller, of Federal News Radio, reports that this memo expands on a commitment made in President Obama’s FY 2011 budget and extends the pilots of the OMB SAVE award competition and several other pilots conducted by agencies last year.  It is now a federal policy to use challenges and prizes as a way of spurring innovation.

Agencies will need to designate someone to run the prize and challenge initiatives for their agencies, and there will be a cross-agency “community of practice” of agency staff to support, design, and manage prizes.

The Administration says it will make available a web-based platform for prizes and challenges by mid-July for agencies’ use.  The memo notes: “. . .a prize should not be an end in itself, but one means within a broader strategy for spurring change.”  It offers six examples of potential prizes.

The memo also identifies some potential legal authorities under which agencies create prizes, in addition to the potential use of existing grants and cooperative agreements.  The memo also says that “An agency without explicit prize authority . . . “ may be able to do so under the “’necessary expense’ doctrine” but that they should consult first with their agency counsel!

This won’t be easy, though.   It goes on to discuss the importance of Federal Advisory Committee Act compliance and ethical issues, and cautions against the federal endorsement of products or services, violating intellectual property rights, complying with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Privacy Act, etc.

So, in the end, “If you have any questions regarding this memorandum, please direct them to!  Or check with your friendly agency general counsel!


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