U.S. General Services Administration & The White House Open Government

Government Challenges. Your Solutions.


The Challenge

President Obama has recognized that “the challenges we face today - from saving our planet to ending poverty - are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.”  The Federal government seeks to harness the expertise and insight that lies “outside the beltway” support the broad adoption of community solutions that work, and form high-impact collaborations with researchers, the private sector and civil society, to solve tough problems.

The Solution

At the outset of his Administration, President Barack Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, committing the Administration to creating a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. On December 8, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued the Open Government Directive, which required executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to further the principles established by the President’s memorandum. The Directive also tasked OMB with issuing guidance for the increased use of challenges and prizes.  This Memorandum on Innovation Challenges and Prizes (PDF format) of March 8, 2010 highlights for agencies policy and legal issues related to the use of prizes and challenges as tools for promoting open government, innovation, and other national priorities. As a result of this guidance, GSA was tasked with creating an online challenge platform that allowed entrepreneurs, innovators, and the public to compete for prestige and prizes by providing the government with novel solutions to tough problems, large and small. 

On September 7, 2010, was launched, making it easy for federal agencies to launch challenges and for the public to share their solutions and innovations with the government. On, agencies can use challenges and prizes to find innovative and cost–effective solutions or improvements to ideas, products and processes. The public  can find challenges that interest them, support, share and discuss those that are important to them with friends, and solve them.

The Benefit

With, the government can now identify the goal without first choosing the approach or team most likely to succeed, and pay only for performance if a winning solution is submitted. Challenges and prizes can tap into innovations from unexpected people and places.  Challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies raise awareness, encourage participation and collaboration, spur investment and improve open government.

"This is a fundamental shift in power," Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, said at the Gov 2.0 Summit conference announcing, along with Aneesh Chopra, White House chief technology officer. " will build out an accountable, results-oriented ecosystem that is fueled by grassroots, bottom-up organizations in the public."

The U.S. General Services Administration saved time and money by creating one platform for all of government. This “create once, use many” approach has made it easy for other agencies to launch challenges. GSA has done the heavy lifting by making available a free tool that has passed policy reviews for security, privacy, accessibility, the Children’s Online Protection Act, and other federal requirements. GSA has tested the platform so it is user-friendly for both federal employees posting challenges, as well as the public supporting challenges and proposing solutions.

Additional Details measures success along four dimensions: Time, Cost, Quality, and Reach. has produced major time and cost savings to agencies by providing a unified platform for them to use. This has produced significant results in terms of time and cost savings.

While each agency is responsible for the quality of the challenges it posts on, there is strong evidence that the site provides an effective experience for citizens and agencies. launched on September 7, 2010 with more than 35 challenges from 15 agencies. As of November 2010, the site features 51 challenges from 25 agencies. Since the launch of, at least three challenges have concluded or moved to the voting stage:

  • – Received 29 submissions for their “How Do I Become President” Poster Challenge. The contest was in the public voting phase until November 22. Watch for the announcement of the winners.
  • Apps for Healthy Kids – This challenge received 100 submissions from 29 states. The 11 winning teams attended a White House reception, met the U.S. CTO and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, and received $60,000 in prizes. Clearly, the cost to procure these apps in a traditional way would far exceed the $60,000 prize purse. 
  • The DOE/Progressive Automotive X Prize challenged the private sector to build a production capable car that gets 100 miles per gallon. The $10 million prize yielded $100 million in investment.

GSA also invested in intensive usability and accessibility testing, and created a uniform challenge posting template, to provide all citizens with an excellent user experience.

As a result, the reach of has been high. Since launch, the Center’s staff has been invited to speak at many meetings and conferences, including the Impact Alliance, Potomac Forum, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - Prizes & Challenges to Accelerate Problem Solving, and the GW Office of Entrepreneurship & iStrategyLabs Gov 2.0 event. has been visited over 100,000 times from launch to present, and challenges have been “supported” by users—a show of increased interest and engagement akin to Facebook’s “Like”—over 4,500 times. has been visited by citizens from every U.S. state, including over 5,000 U.S. cities, as well as visitors from over 170 countries.

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