GEAR Center RFI Results and Planning Revealed

The Office of Management and Budget received more than 40 responses to a request for information (RFI) for its planned Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center, and today a representative from OMB provided more detail about the RFI’s results, the proposed structure of the new center, and where the currently-unspecified amount of “seed funding” for the center would go in order to support various disciplines including Federal IT modernization.

Mary Ellen Wiggins, a member of the Office of Management and Budget’s Performance Team, said today at an event organized by the Government Executive Media Group that the administration is moving forward with its plans and would “like to have the center stood up by 2019.”

“Looking ahead through the next year, we expect that the GEAR Center will be established,” Wiggins said. “That’s our anticipated timeline. As we make specific decisions and have announcements to share, we will share that.”

Regarding the RFI, Wiggins said the responses showed a unity of effort around the proposed issues that will be tackled by the center.

“A lot of the responses were submitted jointly, so we have seen that there are people who are working together thinking about these problems,” she said. Those problems include many in the areas of “data science, organizational behavior, and user-centered design,” according to the RFI.

Structure

Wiggins reiterated the sentiments of the initial GEAR Center announcement–that the center will engage stakeholders in academia, research, and private industry as its model for tackling the Federal government’s 21st century challenges. She said today, however, that the exact structure of the proposed center is still in flux.

The RFI dealt with that question of structure, looking for answers to questions such as, “Should it be a physical space? Should it be a network? What are the right incentives that are needed to bring people together, to make this something that can sustain itself into the future?” Wiggins said, providing a glimpse into the initial takeaways from the responses.

“Our early thinking is that there could be some real advantages to thinking about a networked model, something that could bring together different stakeholders, different research universities, other institutions, in various locations around the country,” she said. It would appear that a free-standing, brick-and-mortar GEAR Center isn’t the only potential outcome.

“We don’t think that the Federal government has all the answers about how it should be operationalized,” Wiggins said.

Funding

A notable stipulation about the proposed center is that the Federal government–though it does intend to provide seed funding–“[does] not expect to maintain responsibility for long-term administration, staffing, and operational management,” according to the RFI.

While that would indicate an essential handoff of GEAR Center governance and maintenance, Wiggins said that the Federal government would want to retain “a role in governance” or “a seat at the table,” whether that be through a board member or senior Federal leader helping to shape its direction, she said.

As far as the seed funding, Wiggins said that it could likely go to standing up the center, and may also contribute to the applied research and live pilot testing expected to be conducted there, but that the exact distribution and amount of funding remains undecided.

Outcomes

Wiggins also explained that the center will largely have to be self-sustaining.

“Really, to keep going and operating, it needs to be very market-based and market-driven,” Wiggins said. “One of the things we asked in the RFI was ‘What are those incentives? What does the academic community need to have to make this seem valuable to them?’”

“It’s also meant to be more accessible to people who can help us think creatively,” she said. But the exact level of openness remains a question. Wiggins said the administration is considering several different “membership models” or the potential for an open-door policy, but has not arrived at a decision.

Regarding what the efforts of the GEAR Center might tangibly produce, Wiggins said “the most important results will be that there are actual solutions that we put into practice,” focused on change and efficacy, rather than creating just another conduit for policy.

“The purpose is not to create documents and recommendations so much, as to make sure the real, tangible changes are happening, and then people can continue to scale up practices that are proven to be successful,” she said.

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