President Elect Barack Obama has named Peter Oszag, current Director of the Congressional Budget Office, as his Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The selection will bring into the Obama White House an advocate of prizes to foster technological innovation.
Recently, in his blog as Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Peter Orszag praised the idea of prizes as a means to encourage technological innovation.
“In many settings, prizes can be an efficient way of encouraging new breakthroughs…I was therefore particularly encouraged to see that the X-Prize Foundation and Wellpoint have created a competition with a prize of at least $10 million for innovative approaches to addressing health care problems and improving the sector’s efficiency – which is a key issue for our long-term fiscal and economic future. “
Peter Orszag cited a paper, entitled Prizes for Technological Innovation, recently published by the Brookings Institute that further buttressed the case for prizes.
Technology related prizes are an old idea. Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in an air plane in pursuit of a twenty five thousand dollar prize about eighty years ago, More recently a team led by Burt Rutan of the company Scaled Composites won a ten million dollar prize for sending a piloted space craft in a hundred kilometer sub orbital flight twice within the space of a week.
The winning of the Ansari X Prize, as it was called, has sparked a myriad of other prizes, some government funded, some privately funded, some with both, designed to foster technological innovations. NASA is conducting a program called Centennial Challenges to encourage the development of various space related technologies. The X Prize Foundation has partnered with Google to run the Lunar X Prize, which will award twenty million dollars to the first team to land a robotic instrument package on the lunar surface. There are other prizes for innovations ranging from fuel efficient automobiles to reducing the time and cost of producing a map of the human genome.
When John McCain suggested a three hundred million dollar prize to produce a battery capable of driving an electric car, Barack Obama ridiculed the idea. Now, by naming Peter Orszag, an advocate of technology prizes to be his Director of Management and Budget, Barack Obama seems to have reversed himself. It will not be the first time that the reality of Obama’s Presidency has not matched his campaign rhetoric.
If Peter Orszag follows through on his advocacy of technology prizes in the crafting of Obama era budgets, interesting times might be ahead for government funded, but privately created technology innovation in the United States. NASA’s Centennial Challenges has been underfunded by Congress in recent years, for instance. That might change with Peter Orszag running OMB.
Sources: Reward a Good Idea, Peter Orszag, CBO Directors Blog, October 16th, 2008
Prizes for Technological Innovation, Thomas Kalil, Brookings Institute, December 2006
X Prize Foundation