General Services Administration (GSA)
GSA manages a broad portfolio of government operations. This portfolio yields extensive operations data that may hold potential solutions to some of government’s most pressing problems. GSA’s Office of Government-wide Policy (OGP) sponsored the GSA Travel Data Challenge in hopes of driving smarter business decisions by bringing a quantitative approach to the travel data the federal government collects.
One key purpose of the challenge was to attain a tool that can provide greater visibility into government agency travel spending. With greater visibility, efficiencies might be found that can lead to more transparency, accountability and cost-saving measures that save money for American taxpayers. For this challenge, the public was asked to develop software that would use GSA’s travel data to address this goal and be scalable across other government agencies.
OGP provided its solvers with three travel-related data sets—voucher data, reservation data and Smartpay transaction data—from fiscal years 2011-2013. To be deemed successful, a solver needed to use the data to answer several questions about how the government makes cost and efficiency improvements. In addition, a successful solution needed to prove adaptable to other government agencies.
GSA offered up to three prizes: a grand prize of $35,000, a runner-up prize of $30,000 and an honorable mention prize of $25,000 for solutions that met the requirements and would be used by GSA. However, GSA only ended up awarding a single prize of $35,000 since only one submission met all of the requirements and would be used by GSA in the future.
The competition was launched on Feb. 14, 2014 and closed on April 11, 2014. The winner was announced on May 9, 2014.
The winning entrant designed an innovative technology tool using open-source code to help agencies better visualize and understand their data, compare their travel data against key benchmarks and identify behaviors to reduce costs on future travel. The winner is a freelance web developer who had not previously worked with GSA. GSA plans to incorporate concepts from this tool into future capabilities to provide agencies with comprehensive travel spending analysis and benchmarking.
Areas of Excellence
Area of Excellence #1: “2.3 Develop Terms and Conditions”
The project manager for this challenge worked closely with GSA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) to ensure compliance with all policies, authorities and regulations, as well as receive advice on several aspects of the challenge:
Evaluation Panel: Collaboration with OGC was critical to ensuring the appropriate approvals and permissions to work with Sam Gilliland, former executive at Sabre Corporation. Gilliland served as a technical advisor on the challenge evaluation panel, and because the company he formerly worked for does business with the government, OGP had to ensure there was no conflict of interest in Gilliland serving as one of the advisors.
Prizes/Winners: OGP also worked with OGC to make sure the terms and conditions of the competition were written to explicitly allow for the evaluation panel to award prizes, only if GSA had plans to use the developers’ products in the future. The competition allowed for up to three prizes to be awarded, but GSA retained the right to award fewer than three prizes. This was important, because in the end the evaluation panel determined that only one solution merited prize money and awarded a single $35,000 prize to the winner. Furthermore, because the challenge was focused on developing open-source technology, GSA needed to specify how the government would “own” any winning solutions. The winning solution was essentially purchased by the government by awarding the prize money and transferring all code and management rights for the solution to OGP. The government was given access to the code via an open source code repository and given management rights to the tool itself, which was hosted on a domain set up by the solver.
Eligibility: OGP worked with OGC to draft rules of eligibility for the challenge. Key rules included the following: participants must be U.S. citizens, groups of individuals could submit solutions but prize money would be awarded at the submission level and federal employees were allowed to participate in the challenge if working on their own personal time and not acting within the scope of their employment.
The full sets of rules and requirements can be viewed at http://gsatraveldata.devpost.com/.
Area of Excellence #2: “3.1 Execute the Communications Plan”
In addition to listing the challenge on Challenge.gov, OGP worked with GSA’s Office of Communications and Marketing to promote the challenge through blog posts and news outlets. GSA also made a video about the challenge which was posted along with the competition details on the challenge website and referred to in blog posts. Furthermore, OGP contacted top university public policy and computer science programs to encourage students to participate in the competition.
Finally, because GSA utilized ChallengePost, emails were sent to ChallengePost’s list of subscribers promoting the challenge and encouraging people to apply. The challenge site also offered a discussion board, where the OGP project manager moderated and responded to approximately 25 discussion topics throughout the two months that the competition was open. These efforts resulted in 185 people registering to participate in the challenge and 14 submissions received. Given the relatively low dollar value of the potential prizes and the short time frame for competitors to develop and submit their solutions, this was seen as a success.
Software and Analytics
Criteria for this challenge were specific enough to guide solvers towards a usable solution for the government, but flexible enough to accommodate innovation and creativity in designing those solutions. Because the challenge encouraged the use of open-source technologies, solvers were able to leverage work done on different platforms, for different uses, and re-purpose it to meet the needs of this challenge, or develop their own visualizations and prototypes from scratch. Many of the submissions OGP received displayed high quality, innovative data visualizations that were dynamic, filterable and user friendly. Many of the developers were able to use graphic design techniques and digital best practices to come up with unique, interesting ways to view the travel data.
America COMPETES Act