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Will the GEAR Center Get Government to The Future?

The federal government wants the public’s opinion on how it can best research new ways of serving them, according to Office of Budget and Management (OMB) Deputy Director Margaret Weichert.

Weichert said during a Thursday virtual conference that federal officials are examining the potential for a Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center aimed at generating such breakthroughs.

“Thinking about how we do government business in the 21st century requires 21st century innovation to figure it out,” she said. “We’re looking for some people who might not normally come together, whether it’s technologists and public policy people, academics or business people. Ultimately, I think the sky’s the limit.”

A July 2018 OMB press release said that the center would be a public-private partnership bringing together computer science, design and economics experts for brainstorming ideas for government.

“Through applied research and live pilot testing, the GEAR Center would connect today’s challenges with cutting-edge solutions,” it said. “With a key focus on data, IT investments and reskilling our workforce, this center would help government catch up and lay the groundwork for where our operations and services need to be years to come.”

OMB officials confirmed Thursday that the agency hopes a GEAR Center exists by 2019. Weichert added that the federal government would potentially start the concept before it functions independently.

“I can’t commit to a specific amount, but it would probably be in the low millions for a seed amount,” she said. “Collaboration and co-experience is part of the norm of how business operates in the 21st century. We want to elevate that and make this a reality for the government.”

Weichert noted that OMB would consider most GEAR Center suggestions, but that starting points include reskilling the federal workforce and commercializing federal data for economic growth.

“The community outside of government understands better than government how critical IT is,” she said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities where we could get ideas about how we could leverage data better in the government.”

Weichert said that the center’s ultimate funding strategy, governance and institutional structure remain undetermined. She added that OMB considers pilot programs and collaboration with both private and public organizations crucial to the project’s rough draft.

“We don’t just want to have think-tank written diagnoses,” she said. “State and local governments have great ideas about how their partners can transform the jobs of the 21st century.”

OMB is circulating a Request for Information (RFI) about the center, with public comment on the concept open until Sept. 14, 2018.

Weichert urged all potential public and private sector partners to comment upon the center while the RFI process remains open. Doing so, she continued, would give interested parties a voice in the program’s final version.

“The GEAR Center vision is to really provide enterprise solutions,” she said. “It’s to have a conversation about the workforce of the future. Help us make this new concept a reality and as good as it can be.”

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