Race is on to create GEAR Center for federal applied research

The General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget have talked about their hopes to create an applied research center in the past, but now that dream is closer to coming true.

On Thursday, GSA and OMB announced a new competition to create a Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center, which would be a public-private partnership to bring together experts from agencies, academia and industry. Challenge participants, or “solvers,” must demonstrate how the GEAR Center would tackle one or more goals in the current President’s Management Agenda.

“The uniquely American research and development system that brings together universities, federal labs, private companies and non-profits has made us a global leader in most fields,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said in a statement. “The GEAR Center provides a common ground to bring those same partnerships together to help solve the biggest challenges facing our government and improve how we serve citizens.”

Because OMB would initially fund the GEAR Center, this challenge is meant to determine its feasibility.

The GEAR Center would tackle operational and strategic challenges facing federal agencies now and in future, Federal News Network previously reported. Modeled after applied research centers at academic institutions, it’s not an entirely original idea, but this public-private partnership would be dedicated to federal issues such as reskilling the workforce and modernizing IT.

It’s also meant to be independent, versus the applied research approach of several good government groups and industry. The latter tends to pay for the research, which raises questions about objectivity of their recommendations to agencies.

In December the GEAR team released 42 responses — 25 of which were from for- and non-profit industry groups — to a request for information on the center’s intent and structure. Responders generally suggested the GEAR Center adopt either a networked or “hub” model, a full-service model using in-house expertise, or a clearinghouse model, according to Performance.gov.

The responders also tended to suggest GEAR primarily be used to conduct applied research projects directly, and that it be a program management office.

The competition is open now through 5 p.m. EST on May 24, with prizes of $300,000 each to be awarded to the winners. According to Thursday’s announcement, proposals will be judges in three phases starting with initial concept papers. From there, up to 20 problem solvers will be invited to submit more detailed plans in phase two, and up to 10 finalists will deliver phase-three presentations to a panel of federal executives. Winners will be announced Aug. 1.

On May 13, GSA and OMB will host a webinar to answer questions and connect interested solvers with experts working on President’s Management Agenda challenges. Questions can be submitted to GEARCenter@gsa.gov in advance.

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