Day One 2025 Idea Open Call: Government Capacity

REMOTE

In 2019, we came together with an idea to arm the next presidential administration in January 2020 with 100 implementation-ready policy proposals crowdsourced from the science, technology and innovation community. Not only was our call for ideas met with an overwhelming response, but along the way we honed a vision for policy entrepreneurship: how anyone can convert a merely promising idea into real movement.

Since 2020, we have helped a growing community of contributors develop promising policy ideas — an amazing number of which have already become policy. Together we have inspired over $2.6 billion in federal investment across key science and technology priorities, eight new cross-cutting federal initiatives, four executive actions, and more.

Now we sit on the verge of another Presidential election – and again FAS sees opportunity for meaningful, science-based policy innovations that can appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. That’s why we’re launching “Day One 2025” – and renewing the call for bold policy ideas, grounded in science and evidence, that can tackle the country’s biggest challenges and bring us closer to the prosperous, equitable and safe future that we all hope for.

For this new effort, FAS has identified five priority areas where ideas and action are most sorely needed: Energy and Environment, Government Capacity, R&D, Innovation and Competitiveness, Global Security, and Emerging Technologies and Artificial Intelligence.

Day One 2025 Idea Open Call: Government Capacity

The U.S. federal government is critical to solving today’s wicked problems. As powerful as this institution can be, ever-growing complexity challenges the government’s ability to quickly innovate and deliver on its mission. Insufficient feedback loops, misaligned incentives, and bureaucratic bottlenecks slow progress and hinder implementation. 

Building federal capacity within–and through–talent and hiring, financial and contracting mechanisms, and performance management and oversight modernization (e.g., burden reduction) will equip the U.S. government to solve today’s most pressing challenges. We believe immense capacity can be unlocked through:

  • Streamlining and strengthening hiring, retention, and training practices to sustain implementation and mission performance, secure 21st century skills and expertise in government (e.g., AI), and lose talent for the right reasons (e.g., job is complete, temporary need is fulfilled)

  • Scaling the adoption of existing and emerging tools to improve the effectiveness and impact of federal spending and contracting, including new technologies and digital tools (e.g., AI) and innovative tools in government (e.g., prizes)

  • Identifying and removing bottlenecks in government that hinder civil servants in achieving their mission, while strengthening practice to understand and respond to organizational performance and health

Over the last four years, ambitious new legislation has tested the U.S. Government’s capacity to deliver. Policies such as the COVID Relief Act (i.e., CARES), the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) challenged existing systems and spurred new methods for implementation. FAS hopes to draw on insights gathered from these implementation efforts to inform the policy ideas developed and the government capacity agenda.

Through Day One 2025, FAS seeks to develop policy ideas and define an agenda for building federal government capacity over the next four years.

Talent and Hiring

Government, like all institutions, runs on people. We need more people with the right skills and expertise for the many critical jobs we need today. Yet hiring and retaining talent is a challenge. Long administrative processes and persistent bottlenecks make it difficult to quickly fill personnel gaps. Rapid changes in science, technology, and society only exacerbate these challenges. Drawing on industry-led approaches to skills-based assessments and meritocratic promotions, the federal government should improve its ability to attract talent, hire quickly using appropriate assessments, and identify and retain high-performing staff by revamping training and performance management.

Our priority questions include:

  1. How might the government support the adoption of expert-reviewed and skills-based recruitment practices across agencies?

  2. How might the government improve the hiring experience and the associated performance indicators for both candidates and hiring managers?

  3. How might the government create a merit-based promotion system?

  4. How might the government transform retention strategies to retain top S&T talent and improve the metrics for measuring the outcomes?

  5. How might the government improve hiring, retention, and training through HR data literacy, pervasive data standards, and best practices in decision making?

Procurement and Contracting Mechanisms

A set of innovative financial and contracting mechanisms exist in government with the power to radically accelerate research, development, demonstration, production, and deployment of novel technologies to address societal challenges. However, agencies too rarely use these tools and authorities due to risk aversion, authority misinterpretation, unclear ownership, and lack of knowledge for implementation. We’re seeking ideas for increasing the uptake of innovative financial and contracting mechanisms across government and for applying the mechanisms to advance science and technological advancements.

Innovative financial mechanisms include, for example:

  • Volume Guarantees

  • Advance Purchase Agreements

  • Advance Market Commitments

  • Prize Competitions 

  • Challenge-based Acquisitions

  • Milestone Payments

  • Rapid Technology Prototyping

  • Staged Contracts

  • Milestone-based Competition

  • Non-binding Purchase Agreements

Our priority questions include:

  1. How might the government increase adoption of innovative procurement and contracting mechanisms across agencies to catalyze innovation? 

  2. How might the center of government bolster their support for agencies applying innovative procurement and contracting mechanisms?

  3. How might the government address market failures to spur critical innovation, build domestic capacity, and strengthen supply chains through existing financial and contracting mechanisms?

Performance Management and Oversight Modernization

What we focus on grows. We focus on failure. If oversight had a balanced focus, including on success, it could help incentivize focus on outcomes over process and improve trust. Lengthy and burdensome oversight and review processes slow down implementation. Many of these processes focus on monitoring compliance, which erodes trust and fails to drive results-oriented behavior. However, process reforms have the potential to reduce the burden on civil servants, streamline inefficiencies, and drive outcomes. At the same time, many federal agencies lack processes to track, measure, and take action on organizational performance and health indicators. We’re seeking ideas for modernizing oversight and organizational performance management processes to drive results, build trust, and improve controls. 

Our priority questions are:

  1. How can we reduce the burden of compliance-oriented oversight processes and increase the ability of oversight to advance and assess mission-oriented outcomes and organizational health?

    1. For example, how might the government transform Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) compliance to focus on advancing information security outcomes?

    2. For example, how might related federal programs adopt common outcome metrics that are useful to federal agencies and grantees and eliminate burdensome, unnecessary reporting requirements?

  2. How might we reform permitting processes to accelerate and improve infrastructure development?

  3. How can the government improve how they are engaging with the public by addressing oversight and review bottlenecks?

    1. For example, how can we improve the Paperwork Reduction Act to streamline user research for designing customer-centered solutions?

  4. How might the government improve employee incentive systems to be results-oriented?

  5. How might oversight bodies lift up desired behaviors and outcomes in the civil service in addition to highlighting errors?

  6. How can the government advance the adoption of data and evidence into performance management and promote a culture of evidence building across agencies and with state and local partners?

    1. For example, how might academia and civil society support federal, state, and local governments in refining and answering important research questions aligned with the government learning agendas?

Want to contribute an idea focused on Government Capacity? Apply below.