The Washington Post



| Take a look at the past contenders for innovator-of-the-week.

It’s Friday. That means it’s time to present our matchup for innovator of the week. If you’re new to this feature, you can catch up with past match-ups and make your voice heard. These are 100 percent, non-scientific polls, so votes are always welcome. (For scientific polls, we have these guys.)

Speaking of scientific polls, the news has not been good for the president or for Congress over the past month. The debt debate went a long way toward souring the American people on their elected officials.

But some non-elected folks working for the government — such as those at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — are moving ahead in more innovative ways. This was a good week for governmental innovation in technology and immigration.

Here’s a refresher on how these two moved the needle this week:

DARPA: When it comes to beefing up the nation’s cybersecurity, government bureaucracy is more than an impediment — it can stop innovation in its tracks. That’s according to Peiter Zatko, who went by the hacker alias “Mudge” before taking up a job with Uncle Sam. Zatko was hired as a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2010, and was charged with funding projects that would help the U.S. government defend against cyber attacks — and to stay one step ahead of the black-hat hackers.

When he was hired, Zatco said: “I want revolutionary changes. I don’t want evolutionary ones.”

Unfortunately for Zatco, the government doesn’t specialize in revolutionary changes so much as slow, methodical ones. It is “insanely difficult” to bring about change in light of government bureaucracy, Zatco said this week during the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, according to Reuters. In light of this, Zatco announced the creation of the “Cyber Fast Track” program, which would slice through the red tape that stands between hackers and the funding that Zatco is charged with providing them.

DARPA’s synopsis of the program was posted Wednesday. It reads in part:

This [research announcement] is soliciting proposals for programs, projects, and other efforts emphasizing low cost and quick turnaround. Efforts should be less than 12 months in duration, with preference given to shorter periods of performance (i.e., 4 months, 3 months, 2 months, etc.). Creativity and agility are encouraged, both in the technology itself, and in the structure of proposed efforts. This program is uniquely designed to attract organizations/companies that have limited existing experience working with the Government.

Now, it appears that Uncle Sam, is hoping to spark innovation in cyber security by getting out of the way.

USCIS: If you can’t change the laws, clarify them.

That’s the reason behind the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) decision to clarify guidelines governing the H1-B, EB-2 and EB-5 visa application processes.

Given the amount of acrimony in Washington, immigration issues have been put on the back burner. Advocates for reform are not likely to see comprehensive legislation anytime soon.

But the administration does not want to abandon that voting block, which came out in strong support of President Obama in 2008. To that end, USCIS published a cheat sheet of sorts for qualified applicants who may feel stymied by the visa-application process. Washington Post innovations columnist Vivek Wadhwa writes:

Napolitano and Mayorkas outlined a series of operational changes to CIS policy that, according to a Department of Homeland Security press release, would “fuel the nation’s economy and stimulate investment by attracting foreign entrepreneurial talent of exceptional ability.” The changes are technical and procedural, but the impact could be significant.

The White House also launched a new series on its blog highlighting entrepreneurs as part of the “Startup America” initiative. The first entry, by “serial entrepreneur” Manu Kumar, referred to the USCIS clarifications as a positive development in the startup visa-reform effort. But the question remains: Were they innovative?

We leave that to you.

Emi Kolawole is the editor-in-residence at Stanford University's, where she works on media experimentation and design.



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