White House Promotes Prizes for Open Government

Executive branch agencies should “increase the use of prizes and challenges as tools for promoting open government,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a memorandum to agency heads (pdf) this week.

“It is Administration policy to strongly encourage agencies to utilize prizes and challenges as tools for advancing open government, innovation, and the agency’s mission,” OMB said.

The memorandum, as promised in the December 2009 White House Open Government Directive (pdf), is intended to provide “a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.”

The substance of the desired improvements was not spelled out in the latest memo, but the earlier Directive said that “The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.”  None of these principles is instinctive or can be taken for granted, and the prize program is an evidently sincere effort to help overcome bureaucratic resistance to greater openness.

“A prize should not be an end in itself, but one means within a broader strategy for spurring private innovation and change,” the new OMB memo said.

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