News from the sacramento » Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Introducing the California Government ‘X-Prize’

I’ve always believed that there’s no monopoly on good ideas, especially when it comes to making our government more efficient and accessible. Many Californians are experts on a variety of topics, whose incredible ideas are just waiting to be heard.

Residents of Crescenta Valley prove this principle on a daily basis. The community is filled with brilliant minds that range from literal “rocket scientists” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to “movie magicians” that bring the big screen to life. Even our community’s youth demonstrate knowledge beyond their years. Whether it is the teenagers who successfully lobbied, fundraised and designed the new skate park, or the members of the Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet High School robotics teams who have made me fly in a homemade hovercraft, Crescenta Valley never ceases to amaze me. And I believe it’s time to tap into some of that brainpower to help make California’s government better, faster and more efficient.

That’s why I’m authoring AB 2138, a bill that opens up government to the marketplace of ideas and offers modest cash incentives for intellectual property that increases government efficiency and reduces government waste. The legislation would authorize Gov. Jerry Brown to select three state agencies, each of which will offer a $25,000 prize for Californians with great ideas, to solve a specific problem, innovate a process or otherwise streamline a system within that agency. This modest “California Government X-Prize” provides the platform for creators and innovators to apply their knowledge and will be open to all Californians not employed by the agency offering the grant.

Incentive prizes have been around for centuries, dating back to 1714 when the British government created the Longitude Prize – a £20,000 award (more than $4 million in today’s dollars) to the person able to calculate the longitude of a ship once it had sailed out of view of land. Most observers expected the prize to be won by a navigator or sailor, but it was a local watchmaker who brought a new expertise to the issue and solved the puzzle.

In the modern world, it is not so much the money as the renown that makes entering such contests attractive. The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a contest in 2011 to develop a multi-purpose combat vehicle. The winner of the DARPA contest, a blue-collar worker for Peterbilt Trucks named Victor Garcia, provided a blueprint for a new combat-support vehicle to the agency and received just $7,500 (but a lifetime of renown and recognition within his field). It is worth emphasizing, that the agency did not acquire a mere idea (i.e., “you should build a new combat transport”), but actual intellectual property (plans and blueprints) that would normally cost millions of dollars and a significant amount of time.

The people of California, including those of Crescenta Valley, are resourceful and inventive. I believe it’s time they be given the opportunity to showcase their creative solutions to some of the state’s most pressing issues, while allowing the government to, for once, purchase services for far cheaper than what it would otherwise be able to do so under normal procurement rules.

Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.<