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11/4/2009
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Homeland Security Seeks New Ideas

The federal agency plans to adopt the Transportation Security Administration's IdeaFactory crowd-sourcing application to encourage brainstorming by employees.

The Department of Homeland Security is latching onto one of the Transportation Security Administration's most innovative IT initiatives, a Web 2.0 crowd-sourcing portal called IdeaFactory. Like TSA, Homeland Security will use the platform to encourage its employees to come forward with new ideas on how to do things.

IdeaFactory is a custom-built, .NET Web application that lets employees submit ideas for new programs and rule changes. Other users can rate the ideas, comment on them, pick favorites, and forward them to others. When a proposal gets enough attention, it's sent to an "idea committee" that reviews it and decides what steps to take. It's essentially a digital, and transparent, ideas box.

The effort has been deemed a success at TSA, where 25,000 employees have posted 9,000 ideas, left 78,000 comments, and submitted 270,000 ratings. It's led to the creation of more than 40 programs, such as the family security lanes at TSA-screened airports.

The White House has taken notice, featuring IdeaFactory on its Web site as an example of what the Obama administration is looking for in its open government initiative, and a few other agencies have mimiced the approach.

A plan to expand IdeaFactory was introduced earlier this year; DHS expects to make it available to all employees by January.

"This will definitely increase morale by allowing employees to give direct feedback, and it will also let us better communicate and share ideas," said Larry Orluskie, IdeaFactory program manager at DHS, in an interview.

DHS is a larger organization than TSA, and DHS will have to work through technology and process issues for IdeaFactory to work there.

To help with that, DHS has assembled a 30-person group of representatives from each of its major divisions (Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others) and its headquarters. The group, called the IdeaFactory Council, is putting processes in place that mirror TSA's. One of its mandates will be to promote the adoption of ideas across the agency's units.

DHS will encourage use of IdeaFactory internally, so that it doesn't fall flat, and support is coming from the top. DHS secretary Janet Napolitano and deputy secretary Jane Holl Lute have been "very engaged" in the plan, said Orluskie.



InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).

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