2017 Bright Idea
General Services Administration
January 1, 2017

The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program unleashes the principles, values, and practices of the innovation economy to address high-impact public sector challenges through the most effective agents of change we know: our people. These teams of government experts and private-sector doers take a user-centric approach to issues at the intersection of people, processes, products, and policy to achieve lasting impact. Inspired by “lean startup” methodology, PIF was designed to focus on high-impact projects that could quickly research users, build prototypes, test solutions, and iterate. On August 23, 2012, the first class of PIFs kicked off their tours of duty in government. Since then, what began as a grand experiment has yielded results through programs like Project RFP-EZ that proved a streamlined bidding process for small government contracts could lead to a 30 percent reduction in the annual $80 billion federal IT budget, saving taxpayers $24 billion per year. Project Blue Button was launched by young technologists working in the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs to help citizens access their own health information. To achieve and sustain these kinds of successes, PIF has adapted to challenges ranging from bureaucratic hurdles in government, to growing pains from expansion. Since federal government hiring processes typically take months, the need to hire fellows in weeks caused tension. Furthermore, some federal agencies weren’t prepared to onboard fellows quickly, which resulted in fellows waiting weeks after they joined for laptops and email addresses.In response, the fellows and those running the program developed hacks allowing them to achieve their missions, such as identifying aspects of the hiring and background check process that could be run concurrently and pre-ordering laptops and email accounts even though doing so was not standard procedure. Once PIFs proved they could deliver value, the demand for fellows from agencies skyrocketed, with 35 agency projects competing to hire PIFs in the second round of the program. There was also increased interest from candidates, with over 2,100 applicants for the second round.