Guest column: Federal leaders with a penchant for innovation: 3 tips to get started

2013_08_knapp Robert Knapp, chief operating officer at NIC Inc.

Robert Knapp is the chief operating officer at NIC Inc., and a FedScoop contributor.

Last month, President Obama announced his management agenda for government innovation. He discussed using technology to make government smarter, more responsive and more effective. The good news is that one in five federal leaders already has a penchant for innovation, according to the “Innovators Anonymous” report  by MeriTalk.


These self-proclaimed innovators firmly believe their agencies need to do a lot of things differently from today. In fact, they spend one-third of their time driving change within their agency, and nearly 40 percent of them looking outside of government for new ideas.

That is exactly what the president has in mind. His agenda reinforced the importance of the public-private partnerships taking place during the second round of the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. And he called on federal leaders to make government processes as efficient as tracking a package online or retail e-commerce is today.

So, federal innovators who are ready to get started and harness the power of technology to make government smarter, more responsive and more effective, where do you begin? Here are three things to consider:

Evaluate your most paper-intensive processes

Registrations, filings, licensing, inspections, applications — you name it, there are plenty of government processes that require one form after another to be completed where the data on the paper form is later keyed into a database. The more times paper forms are later keyed in just results in more room for error. In Arkansas,  two enhancements were made to the Arkansas State Jobs website that resulted in a nearly-paperless hiring process. Not only is this a more efficient, environmentally friendly process; it will result in the state saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Keep your customers top of mind

Smarter, more innovative and more responsive government should result in internal process efficiencies. But often, it is the wrong starting point when efficiencies are discussed. Instead, think about your customers —  the citizens and businesses you serve. How can you make a licensing process easier for a business professional or a food inspection process easier for the meat-packing industry? By evaluating processes from an end user’s perspective, efficiencies will follow for everyone involved — including your department.

One example of industry driving change comes from the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The trucking companies needed commercial truck driver crash and inspection data so they could make informed hiring decisions. The result? The pre-employment screening program now makes this information easily accessible via an online service. Nearly 1 million truck driver crash and inspection records have been pulled since the inception of this online service, delivering crucial information to trucking companies across the country.

Consider how you will fund innovation

Changing processes and developing new software applications can be expensive — not ideal, especially during a time when federal budgets are limited. However, there are alternatives to funding innovation that don’t require 1 cent of an agency’s budget to be used. Today, no-cost funding models can be used to develop innovative e-government services. It involves public-private partnerships in which a private sector partner develops e-government applications with a small efficiency fee paid by the end user in return for a quick, paperless, immediate online convenience.


Think of this model like a toll road: Those who want to use it, pay for it. It also works like priority mail service. If you want quicker delivery, you pay an incremental cost for that convenience. In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “I urge OMB and the chief information officers of federal agencies to explore programs where the self-funded model can be applied.” There are ways to be innovative, provide more services to businesses and citizens, and spend nothing.

The president has asked for innovation, and the good news is innovation is alive and well among federal agency leaders. A quick evaluation of paper-intensive processes and alternative funding models with citizens and businesses top of mind will help spark even smarter, more innovative and more responsive government.

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