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Can OPM’s ‘innovation lab’ live up to its Silicon Valley billing?

Design-led innovation. Intelligent risk-taking. Immersion projects.

Those Silicon Valley buzz-words help describe the vision behind a so-called “innovation lab” that the Office of Personnel Management opened two years ago in the basement of its Washington headquarters, according to the Government Accountability Office.

OPM spent $1.1 million to build the facility, plus another $476,000 to staff it in 2013. But the agency still hasn’t figured out exactly how to gauge the lab’s performance, according to a report this week from the GAO.


(Paul Hocksenar/Flickr)

OPM created the innovation lab after stumbling through the 2011 launch of USAJobs.gov, a federal jobs Web site. The idea was to create a space for tackling some of the agency’s most pressing and difficult challenges.

The new lab features the chic trappings of a California-style design center, including a wooden barn-door entrance, Ikea furniture, chalk-board walls, interlocking white boards and even a small kitchen.

MORE: Office of Personnel Management’s “Innovation Lab” a portal to Silicon Valley

The report credited OPM with incorporating common practices of similar labs, but it said the agency lacks a “rigorous evaluation framework” to determine whether the facility is living up to expectations.  

The GAO noted that OPM is developing a performance-evaluation system for the program and that the agency is surveying lab users to determine how they feel about it.

Only 35 percent of federal workers in government’s 2013 employee-satisfaction survey indicated that they believe their agencies reward creativity and innovation.

The report said OPM followed the lead of “a number of private sector companies, nonprofit organizations and government bodies” by creating the lab to foster creativity.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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