Seven States To Compete for Innovation Awards

Seven state-run programs in areas such as education, public safety, and the environment are among 15 policy initiatives competing for five $100,000 awards for being the most innovative programs in American government.

The awards are given annually by the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in conjunction with the Council for Excellence in Government. The 15 finalists were chosen from 1,300 applicants, and each will receive a $20,000 grant.

The five grand prizes, funded through a Ford Foundation endowment, are given to publicize and replicate the winning programs in other jurisdictions. In the 15 years since the competition started, programs such as voice mail for the homeless, an initiative to eradicate sweatshops, and an effort to help the uninsured gain health coverage have won awards and taken root elsewhere.

State-run programs competing for the top prizes this year include:

  • Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois , a program of the Illinois Board of Education, offers would-be teachers financial assistance for college and teaching preparation. Scholars agree to teach for five years in an Illinois school with a significant number of low-income students.
  • Minnesota's Board of Government Innovation and Cooperation gives local officials the option of trying innovative ideas in areas such as healthcare, transportation and services for the elderly with the state assuming some of the risk of failure.
  • Idaho's Dairy Pollution Prevention Initiative is aimed at eliminating dairy discharge and increasing the level of environmental compliance among dairies.
  • Hawaii's Kokua Mau program unites government, academic, and non-profit organizations to improve end-of-life care.
  • California's Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program helps educationally disadvantaged students excel in math.
  • Oklahoma's OK-First program supports local public safety agencies in the heart of Tornado Alley with a computerized weather system that helps local officials make lifesaving decisions. The program, an initiative by the state-run Oklahoma Climatological Survey, serves about 140 communities with real-time radar data through public safety agencies including fire departments, law enforcement and emergency management.
  • Massachusett's Environmental Results Program replaces the traditional permit process with industry-specific environmental performance standards that encourage pollution prevention.

Other finalists for the government innovation awards include city-run programs such as Chicago's effort to provide senior citizens with a place to exercise and an initiative in LaGrange, Ga., to provide free Internet access to all cable television households in its jurisdiction. Federal-run programs eligible to win include a child welfare initiative, a Veterans Affairs program to prevent health-care errors, and a site for government information called FirstGov.gov.

Administrators of this year's finalist programs will describe their programs to a panel of experts led by U.S. News & World Report columnist David Gergen in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 17. The winners will be announced the next day.