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Innovation in government is a two-way street. Sometimes new inventions or advancements happen inside government and go to the private sector for mass production and distribution. Other times, government identifies a problem and turns to the private sector for solutions. In either case, the nation relies on procuring these innovations to meet critical needs.
A few years ago, an applied physiologist at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in New York tested a bionic walking-assistance system—created by an Israeli company—that enables veterans with spinal cord injuries to stand, walk and climb stairs using a wearable robotic exoskeleton. VA recently announced it will make these exoskeleton systems available for all qualifying veterans.
“Government’s most profound and innovative technological breakthroughs—everything from the Internet to GPS—have resulted from strategic partnerships between agencies, private industry and academic institutions. ”
In another example of public–private collaboration, a Department of Energy metallurgist at a federal laboratory in Oregon developed a new type of coronary stent. He then worked with a leading maker of medical devices to create tiny but strong and long-lasting scaffolding that holds open an artery to keep blood flowing—and is visible for X-rays. It has become the leading stent in the world, since being introduced in 2010.
These innovations are just two examples of innovations that arose when federal agencies worked with the private sector. Beyond the medical field, this type of partnership has led to advances such as environmentally friendly buildings and new tools for defending our nation.
For this report, we interviewed dozens of federal officials who are working to form strategic partnerships to achieve life-changing innovations. We learned how they have been successful by collaborating with nongovernmental partners, managing risk, allowing for failure and changing agency culture. We take these lessons and identify ways they can be expanded across government.