HHS recognizes innovative internal projects

The seven winners of the HHS Innovates Awards show creative thinking is possible, even in a bureaucracy, Secretary Burwell said.

Secretary Sylvia Burwell recognized seven teams Wednesday from agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services for innovative solutions they developed over the past year.

Each year, the HHS IDEA Lab selects a handful of pioneering projects piloted by its employees that it feels demonstrate the forward thinking that will help the department improve health care and better serve the public. This year’s seven finalists came from a pool of 70. Some created new processes to solve problems they face every day while others took on a challenge outside of their daily work.

“There is one thing these innovation teams share in common, and that is what we call smart risk taking,” new HHS Chief Technology Officer Susannah Fox said at the awards ceremony. “These teams have opted not to do business as usual but to try new disruptive approaches.”

Of the seven winners, Burwell selected two as her “Secretary’s Picks,” and one was voted by more than 4,000 HHS employees as the prestigious “Employee’s Choice” winner.


Burwell said the winners showed that innovation is possible inside a heavily federated bureaucracy. That, she said, is “the cornerstone of how we will transform our health care system into one that is better, smarter and helps people live healthier lives.”

Even outside HHS, people are noticing the movement behind these innovators and the IDEA Lab. Cristin Dorgelo, chief of staff for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the group has some big fans on Pennsylvania Avenue, including President Barack Obama; his science and technology adviser, John Holdren; and U.S. CTO Megan Smith.

Dorgelo told the winners they were “models of what is possible in government.” And she said she was encouraged that five other agencies hoping to launch innovative spaces modeled after the agency’s IDEA Lab.

“Small teams actually do have the ability to change the path and the direction of these large challenges,” she said.

Dorgelo added, “Thank you for demonstrating that these innovations can be done without resources currently under our control.”


Quoting the late technology innovator Steve Jobs, Burwell said to be innovative, people must have the intangible ability to “get it.” The winners who were gathered in front of her at the HHS headquarters Wednesday, she said, definitely get it. “You know and you get how essential creativity and new ways of thinking are to serving our bosses: the American people.”

The winners of the 2015 Innovates Awards were:

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