MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21ST, 2009 AT 2:25 PM
A Presidential Challenge to the Employees of the VA
Posted by Aneesh Chopra and Peter Levin
Today, the President released a groundbreaking strategy to spur long-term high-wage job growth, in part, by "laying the groundwork and ground rules to best tap our innovative potential. This strategy is rooted in a simple idea, "that if government does its modest part, there is no stopping the most powerful and generative economic force the world has ever known: the American people.
It is this same belief in the ingenuity of the American people that guides the Administration's efforts to make government more effective, innovative, and open. Thus, on August 17th, the President turned to the front-line workforce to troubleshoot the backlogs and delays that have plagued the Veterans Benefits Administration. In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, President Obama challenged them to "come up with the best ways of doing business, of harnessing the best information technologies, of cutting red tape, and breaking through the bureaucracy. The President turned to VA employees because he knows they have a unique ability to see what's going wrong - why the backlogs continue to grow, why the delays are so long, why the claims processes can be so confounding – and with their own creativity and commitment would generate a mountain of ideas for improvement.
Under the leadership of Secretary Eric Shinseki and Under Secretary for Benefits Patrick Dunne, the VA launched the "innovation competition", starting with a web-mediated idea management tool that made it easy, convenient, and electronically safe for VBA employees to submit their original ideas. The platform enables unprecedented levels of collaboration and comment, and even allowed participants to "vote" on the ideas they thought would have the greatest, far-reaching impact. The VA innovation competition will create a new channel for best ideas to rocket right to the attention of the President and Secretary Shinseki, and for the outstanding employee-innovators behind those ideas to get some serious recognition.
Here in the CTO shop, we have the sneaking suspicion (OK, for some of us, it's more like a life-consuming, obsessive conviction) that smartly-deployed information technologies can transform organizations - improving services, reducing costs, speeding processes, and increasing happiness for clients and employees alike. In fact, we're going to go out on a limb and predict that information technology will be THE central character in the inevitable academy award winning documentary of the VA innovation competition - you know, the underappreciated underdog that confronts the cynics, dumbfounds the doubters, and becomes, well, a public service hero to our nation’s military heroes.
In just the first week the site has been accessed 29,000 times, by 7,000 users, with over 3000 ideas. This is an astonishing participation rate. Together with Chief Performance Officer Zients, Chief Information Officer Kundra, and their respective teams, we’re going to work relentlessly to make this competition a potent engine of employee-driven change.
Stay tuned. The next step is for the regional office directors to cull through their treasure chest, figure out which jewel they'd like to develop more, and submit it to headquarters. Next, Undersecretary Dunne and his team will pick the fifteen best, and invite them to Washington for an in-person presentation. The winners should be announced in the first couple of weeks of January and we fully expect regional offices to fast-track the low-hanging fruit. But in our book all the folks who took the time to check it out, contribute some ideas, vote on the best ones, and comment on all the rest are already champions.
The real winners will be our Veterans. That's what it's all about.
Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Peter Levin is Chief Technology Officer and Senior Advisor to the Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs