A transportation planner with the Federal Highway Administration was awarded the grand prize, including a $50,000 check, for submitting the best overall idea, among more than 1,000 entries, on how to use informaltion technology to improve the quality of government.

Aung Gye took the top prize for suggesting that the U.S. could minimize the need to acquire new vehicles and equipment by developing a nationwide interactive data base that would track underutilized assets including office space, conference rooms, automobiles and other equipment.

His idea, and four others, were recognized in a ceremony last night in Washington D.C. as part of new innovation contest, challenging Americans and people throughout the world to bring forward creative ways to use IT to improve the U.S. government.

The contest, called the Merit Awards, succeeded not only in singling out promising ideas; it also reflected the growing impact contests with prize money can play in attracting superior ideas, observed Mark Forman, one of the judges who reviewed this year’s entries. Forman (pictured at right above) was the first administrator for E-Government and IT in the Office of Management and Budget, and is co-founder of Government Transaction Services and an occasional contributor to Breaking Gov.

“This round of submissions were one step above what you’d see typically,” he said. “Rewarding innovation and ideas is critically important,” especially now, said Forman, when government agencies need to overcome the trappings of 20th century management structures.

Among the other winning ideas:

Citizen Engagement: Create a secure U.S. passport mobile application that allows citizens to sign in temporarily and download passport data via near-field communications – Daniel Kestranek, The Pennsylvania State University.

Emergency Response: Develop mobile and other disaster alert applications as an early warning system for natural disasters, using consolidated data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies – Ben Sottile, Department of Defense

Results Achievement: Standardize classification processes, including a standard taxonomy model to build, govern, and share processes – Roy Roebuck, One World Information System

Waste: Modify the IT acquisition process to diminish the impact that current or past relationships play in awarding contracts. We could use standardized criteria and separate agencies to judge merits of requests for proposals – Dave Schnell, North Carolina Department of Revenue

“This makes me feel very good!” said Aung Gye. “I’ve been working on this sort of innovation since I first learned about supply-chain logistics early in my career. By helping one agency use another agency’s unused automobiles, construction equipment, office space, or other government assets, we can maximize tax payer dollars and optimize the assets themselves.”

Whether the winners will be able to implement their ideas remains to be seen.

Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google, who also served as a judge, noted recently that innovation takes root in an environment of discontent.

“I’m almost speaking in praise of discontent. But unless somebody is not satisfied with the status quo, nothing happens. And in many ways, that’s key to allowing innovation to happen,” he said. “But it also takes the freedom to fail.”

Still, the judges praised the ideas that came forward and gave the highest marks to those that demonstrated innovative thinking, potential savings, and executability.

The selection committee includes Aileen Black, vice president, Federal, VMware, Inc.; Vint Cerf; Congressman Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.); Mary Davie, assistant commissioner, Office of Integrated Technology Services, Federal Acquisition Service, General Services Administration; the Honorable Thomas M. Davis III; Mark Forman; Vivek Kundra, former Federal chief information officer; Ronnie Levine, assistant director, Information Resources Management, Bureau of Land Management; Steve O’Keeffe, MeriTalk (pictured at left above); and Tom Soderstrom, IT Chief Technology Officer, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.