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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

An Inclusive Talent Pipeline for American Businesses

An opportunity to modernize employment recruitment, training, and retention for Americans with disabilities.

Department of Health and Human Services

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $380,000
Type of Challenge: Ideas
Submission Start: 11/22/2019 5:00 PM ET
Submission End: 02/14/2020 11:59 PM ET


The Challenge: An Inclusive Talent Pipeline for American Businesses

The Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing a competition for American businesses to expand human capital pipelines by drawing upon highly talented and diverse workforces, inclusive of people with disabilities. 

To achieve this, the Inclusive Talent Pipeline for American Businesses challenge will support rapid innovation and adoption of models that help businesses improve performance by recruiting and retaining workers with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). 

People with disabilities use creativity to navigate the world, and in turn they develop unique strengths, such as problem-solving skills, persistence, forethought and an eagerness to innovate — all of which are essential to today’s market. American businesses that employ and support workers with disabilities see improved performance over their industry peers. On average these firms have:

  • 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and
  • 30% higher economic profit margins compared to businesses that did not engage in disability employment and inclusion efforts.1

In addition, companies that employ and support workers with disabilities were twice as likely as companies that do not to have higher total shareholder returns than their peers.  Further:

  • Innovation leads to the development of products and programs that are accessible for all.
  • Investors increasingly scrutinize company culture and diversity, including disability inclusion, in investment decisions.
  • Inclusive business environments often see improved productivity levels with the addition of employees with disabilities.

People with disabilities also are an important population for businesses that are working to achieve greater diversity and inclusion of their workforce. With this challenge, ACL is seeking commitments from businesses to include employees with disabilities, particularly with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in their inclusion and diversity efforts and their talent pipeline programs.

Ultimately, the workforce pipelines proposed here will enable businesses to benefit from the talents of a wider, more diverse workforce and ensure more Americans with disabilities are able to advance and compete in the future economy.  ACL recognizes that businesses – from Wall Street to Main Street – are critical partners for identifying and testing solutions to this challenge.

The challenge will take part in phases, with cash prizes awarded in each phase:

  • Phase 1, beginning in Fall of 2019, seeks proposals from competitors who aim to innovate and tailor the pipeline models to include individuals with IDD.
  • Phase 2, beginning in Spring of 2020, participants will be asked to conduct small scale feasibility testing on the selected workforce pipeline models.  Teams will convene in Washington, D.C. to propose their ideas to a panel of judges who will help select winners.  Judges will have expertise in increasing access into the labor force for people with disabilities.
  • Phase 3, beginning in Summer 2020, will examine the replicability, scalability, and long-term sustainability. Teams will again convene in Washington, DC, and the Grand Prize winner will be announced in October of 2020..  

ACL is looking for innovative workforce pipelines that:

  • Serve people with a wide range of disabilities, including individuals with IDD;
  • Redefine career development requirements and pathways using non-traditional methods;
  • Innovate and incorporate pipeline components that specifically address the employment barriers for the IDD community;
  • Include individuals from the IDD community throughout the development and testing of models;
  • Include a business commitment to implement the model for Phase 2 (small scale testing) of the challenge; and
  • Lead to competitive, integrated employment.

What is a Challenge?

A challenge (also referred to as "prize challenge,” "competition," "prize competition," "incentive prize" or any combination thereof) allows the public to solve problems presented by federal agencies and receive awards for the best solutions. This boils down to three steps:

  1. Agency announces a problem to the public.
  2. Participants create and submit solutions to the problem.
  3. Agency evaluates solutions and awards prizes to the best ones.

This process may sound similar to grants or contracts, but challenges differ in small and significant ways. In grants and contracts an agency receives proposals to do work, chooses one and then pays the monetary award incrementally as the work is done. In challenges, an agency generally selects winner(s) after assessing work that has been completed. In more complex, multi-phase challenges, phase winners may be selected progressively as development stages are completed.

Unlike contracts in particular, which provide detailed and comprehensive specifications of the work that needs to be done, challenges define a smaller set of requirements, which allows participants to bring more of their own creativity to solutions.  This can be advantageous when a problem can be solved many different ways, including ways that the agency is not even aware of.  The open-ended approach can entice participation from those who may not have direct expertise in the problem subject matter area but can lend expertise from their diverse backgrounds.

Challenges can serve multiple goals beyond sourcing solutions to problems, including:

  • Signal interest in an area that you think markets should be doing more to serve
  • Reach wide communities of experts
  • Deliver messages to the public in a fun, interactive way
  • Generate interest in new services, data or technologies your agency provides
  • Develop public buy-in for agency initiatives

For more information, please visit:

Today’s Workforce for Americans with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

With the nation’s strong economic growth and historically low unemployment rates, America’s business leaders are actively searching for diverse and talented workers to build an inclusive and dynamic national workforce.  Despite the more than seven million unfilled jobs, unemployment among Americans with disabilities remains above 70%.  For Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the number is even greater with 82% remaining out of the workforce.  For individuals with IDD who are employed, data consistently show that the majority work part-time in entry-level positions, have low income, and have limited access to employee benefits.  In addition to these gaps, many career tracks are often not accessible to the IDD community because of requirements such as completion of higher education or having a driver’s license; many of these requirements are not necessary to succeed.

In today’s thriving and competitive market, businesses across the United States are providing innovative and competitive opportunities to workers to develop new skills and enter into career-tracked jobs.  From apprenticeships and training programs, to leadership rotational programs, and integrative internships, employers are developing pipelines for recruiting and retaining talent.  Paired against the deep bench of talent from the population of Americans with disabilities, there is current opportunity to develop and expand employment recruitment and workforce pipeline programs to target, train, and retain the talents of workers with disabilities, including those with IDD.

The Opportunity to Modernize Employment Recruitment, Training, and Retention for Americans with Disabilities

How does a company pave the way in the area of disability employment and inclusion?  Most success stories showcase companies who bring creativity and innovation to the process of recruitment and training for hiring and retaining people with disabilities.1 One example includes how technology firms have examined the initial barrier to why people with autism were not getting placed in jobs, and at least one is now partnering with a local company to bring in qualified candidates for a week-long academy of training and technical exercises. 

While there are effective ways of building the pipeline to employment for people with disabilities, current best practices in workforce recruitment and training for individuals with IDD require some innovative components such as spending time with individuals in community settings, working with families, and negotiating job responsibilities with an employer.

  1. American Association of People with Disabilities & Disability:IN (2018). Getting to Equal 2018: The Disability Inclusion Advantage.  Retrieved August, 17, 2019, from


Total Cash Prize Pool


Prize Breakdown

Phase 1 – Proposal of Innovative Models: Total Cash Prize of $100,000

HHS will make up to five awards

Phase 2 – Small Scale Testing of Models: Total Cash Prize of $180,000

HHS will make up to three awards

Phase 3 – Promise of Model Sustainability: Total Cash Prize of $100,000

HHS will make one awards

Non-monetary Prizes

Winners will also obtain:

  • Paid travel to Washington, D.C. for a demonstration day during Phase 2 and Phase 3
  • Mentorship from experts in the field
  • Networking opportunities
  • Promotion of business innovation model
  • Federal recognition of an additional top model proposed


Eligibility Rules for Participating in the Competition: To be eligible to win a prize under this challenge, an individual or entity—

(1) Shall have registered to participate in the competition under the rules promulgated by the Administration for Community Living;

(2) Shall have complied with all the requirements under this section;

(3) In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States;

(4) May not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment (all non-HHS federal employees must consult with their agency Ethics Official to determine whether the federal ethics rules will limit or prohibit the acceptance of a COMPETES Act prize);

(5) Shall not be an HHS employee;

(6) Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop submissions unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award; and

(7) Federal contractors may not use Federal funds from a contract to develop COMPETES Act challenge applications or to fund efforts in support of a COMPETES Act challenge submission.

Terms and Conditions

An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a competition if the facilities and employees are made available to all individuals and entities participating in the competition on an equitable basis.

Participants must also agree to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal Government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from my participation in this prize contest, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.

Participants are required to obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility in the amount of $0 for claims by a third party for death, bodily injury, or property damage, or loss resulting from an activity carried out in connection with participation in a challenge.

Participants must also agree to indemnify the Federal Government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to Challenge activities.

The Administration for Community Living reserves the right to cancel, suspend, and/or modify the Challenge, or any part of it, for any reason, at the Administration for Community Living’s sole discretion.

Judging Criteria

Judging Panel

The Judging Panel will be composed of federal and/or other technical and subject matter experts.

Judging Criteria


  • To what extent does the proposed solution use innovative approaches developed to simultaneously address recruiting, training, and retaining people with IDD into the inclusive and integrated talent pipeline model?
  • To what extent does the narrative describe how the workforce pipeline will be integrated into current business plans and how the model will benefit America’s business leaders (e.g., by providing educational or training opportunities)?
  • To what extent are there feasible economic benefits provided by the proposed model?
  • To what extent are the predicted benefits quantified and supported by appropriate assumptions?


  • To what extent does the project demonstrate collaboration between different stakeholders (e.g., local partnerships, disability community, employer networks, etc.) throughout the entire process?
  • To what extent does the project demonstrate that it will forge partnerships and/or identify stakeholders that could help support the proposed project? The purpose of such partnerships or stakeholder involvement could include, but is not limited to financial support, operations and maintenance, design consultation, or workforce internal education.


  • To what extent does the project narrative detail how the design would be implemented over the near, mid, and long-term time horizons? To what extent are the selected time frames for project implementation reasonable?
  • To what extent is the proposed pipeline model adaptable to different communities / business environments?


  • To what extent are the documents of sufficient quality (adheres to the project narrative requirements including: cover page, page limits, and the addition of appendices) to enable the judges to evaluate the design?
  • To what extent does the applicant include a description of their organizational capacity to implement the project?
  • To what extent does the project include a description of the overall project goals, project context, existing conditions along with the problem to be solved, proposed talent pipeline approaches, and expected outcomes?
  • To what extent does the team appear to have conducted the background research necessary to support their design?
  • To what extent are the documents well-written and free of errors?


  • To what extent does the team present a cost estimate for the proposed model?
  • To what extent does the narrative include detailed information on how the model could be paid for?
  • To what extent did the team research grants, loans, or other sources of financing that must cover the entire projected cost of the project. Information included in the narrative must represent a viable financing path to project construction.
  • To what extent does the team account for the cost of long-term operations and maintenance?


  • To what extent does the project contemplate public outreach and education (e.g., examples of marketing the workforce program model)?
  • To what extent will the proposed project complement efforts within the broader community areas of need?

How To Enter

Application Requirements:

Project Narrative

The intent of the project narrative is to provide a summary of each company’s approach to meeting the challenge criteria (see Judging section).

  • Each company must prepare a project narrative not to exceed fifteen (15) pages, not including appendices or figures. Any additional pages that exceed the fifteen-page limit will not be reviewed.  Pages should be consecutively numbered with 1” margins, and text should be single-spaced in standard 12-point font. Headings may be larger than 12-point font; text labels for graphics or images may be smaller than 12-point font; page numbers may be outside of the 1” margin.
  • The project narrative must include a cover page (not counted against the 15-page limit). The cover page must display the company’s project title and all partner names and organizations.  Companies that don’t meet these formatting requirements will be disqualified.
  • The project narrative must include a project abstract of no more than 250 words (not counted against the 15-page limit).
  • Companies must provide an electronic copy of the project narrative in Adobe Acrobat® PDF format that is accessible and Section 508 compliant. Instructions on submitting accessible deliverables are provided here. Alternative formats will not be accepted.

Memorandum(s) of Understanding (MOU)

The intent of the MOUs is to demonstrate a company’s commitment and collaboration with community partners to develop a feasible workforce pipeline for people with disabilities.  Each company must submit one condensed MOU, with each community partners/organizations included, or separate MOUs from each community partners/organizations that they are collaborating with to demonstrate support for the development of the workforce pipeline.

  • The MOUs do not count against the 15-page limit of the project narrative. MOUs are not to exceed two pages. Pages that exceed the limit will not be reviewed.
  • The MOUs must be on appropriate letterhead. Additionally, the MOUs must be signed by leadership of a company.
  • The MOUs must be provided in Adobe Acrobat® PDF format that is accessible and Section 508 compliant. Instructions on submitting accessible deliverables are provided  Alternative formats will not be accepted.

Submission Instructions

ACL will collect submissions to the Employment Challenge via email. Participating companies must email their submissions to by Friday, February 14, 2020 by 11:59 PM EST.  Email submissions must include the date of submission and company name in the email subject and in attached file names.  Email submissions must include the following components.

  1. Project Narrative (saved as “CompanyName_Date_Project Narrative.pdf”)
  2. Signed Memorandum(s) of Understanding (saved as“CompanyName_Date_MOU.pdf”)