California Lawmaker Wants to Cut Waste With Crowdsourcing

Foundations and the federal government are using “crowdsourcing” to get the public involved in everything from landing a robotic spacecraft on the moon to getting rid of land mines. Now a California lawmaker wants to use it to curb state agencies’ waste and delay.

Taking a page from the Culver City, California-based XPRIZE Foundation’s goal of encouraging innovation with cash prizes, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto is promoting a bill offering $75,000 in rewards to hatch ideas for such challenges as reducing wait times for drivers’ licenses and car registrations. If approved, it would make his state the first to use crowdsourcing to improve its operations.

The Los Angeles Democrat’s bill would award three $25,000 prizes to people who submit ideas that are adopted to make state government work better.

“I knew a lot of young people who wanted to be musicians or actors and actresses, but now a lot of young people dream of coming up with the next hot application for computers and phones,” said Gatto, 39. “Clearly the incentive for these prizes is not the money, it’s the renown.”

The XPRIZE Foundation, whose board includes Google Inc. co-founder Larry Page and Tesla Motors Inc. founder Elon Musk, helped popularize the concept of paying cash for innovations. The private nonprofit funded efforts to more efficiently clean oil spills, create a car that gets 102.5 miles per gallon and build a private space industry, according to its website. It is offering $30 million to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon by the end of next year.

Government Contests

The federal government embraced the concept in 2010 with, a collection of contests from more than 50 federal agencies that include prizes for ways to identify asteroids from ground telescopes, enable citizens to report land mines with mobile applications and to ferret out bias in peer-reviewed scientific reports.

Gatto’s bill to establish a California pilot program passed the state Assembly unanimously in May. The Senate hasn’t voted on it.

In a Senate committee hearing in June, state Senator Andy Vidak, a Hanford Republican, cast the sole vote in dissent. Vidak is concerned that Governor Jerry Brown’s administration might use the prizes to promote a $68 billion high-speed rail project linking the state’s major cities that many Republicans and residents oppose, spokeswoman Jann Taber said.

“This gives the governor carte blanche,” Taber said. “The governor is clearly prioritizing high-speed rail, so it’s clear that one of these $25,000 awards could go to the high-speed rail authority.”

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, declined to comment.

Gatto’s bill would put Brown in charge of picking three state agencies to design awards contests. In addition to the prize money itself, the program would cost $100,000 to $150,000 in administrative costs, according to a bill analysis.

California already solicits about 566 suggestions from state employees a year and adopts 21 of them, the analysis said. Awards to state employees average $100, the analysis said.

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