Government leaders have a unique opportunity to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges – and reduce the federal deficit by as much as $220 billion – by taking more progressive steps in adopting innovative IT practices and other measures, says a prominent public-private partnership organization.

But to accomplish that, agency leaders will need to more fully align and integrate information technology with their mission and business operations, according to recommendations in a series of policy briefing papers released today by the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation.

These and other recommendations – ranging from how to empower citizen engagement to ways the government as the nation’s largest employer might model health and wellness programs – are included in six reports aimed at senior government leaders moving into new roles in the next administration, according to Sara DeCarlo, director of the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation.

The recommendations reflect the views of more than 100 government and industry leaders assembled by the American Council of Technology and the Industry Advisory Council, as part of the institute’s Quadrennial Government Technology Review (QGTR).

“We wanted to think broadly and at a significant level what are the major problems facing government today,” and then look at “how technology could be used to support government,” said Molly O’Neill, who along with management consultant Anne Reed, co-chaired the steering committee that produced reports. O’Neill, a former CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency, is a vice president at CGI and a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration.

During a briefing prior to the reports’ release, O’Neill, Reed, and other steering committee members emphasized how central technology had become in the private sector to improving performance – and why investments in IT innovations would directly benefit federal agencies.

“We believe proper investment in forward-thinking IT solutions will empower agencies to address the funding gaps, while also addressing their mission,” said Lee Holcomb, vice president for strategic initiatives at Lockheed Martin, and the project leader for the policy paper on fiscal stewardship.

Citing research from McKinsey Global Institute, Holcomb said the use of big data analytics could reduce federal health care spending by as much as $70 billion annually. He also highlighted how government could realize an additional $100 billion in savings annually by adopting best IT practices commonly used in the private sector and another $50 billion annually using advances in IT to reduce fraud and improper payments.

The Institute for Innovation’s recommendations, however, went beyond harnessing IT more effectively.

The nation’s escalating health care costs, for instance, could also be addressed by the federal government taking a leadership role as the nation’s largest employer, placing greater national emphasis on employee wellness programs, said Dan Swedberg, president of SyntheSys, who served as the QGTR topic lead for health IT.

“What struck us, in looking at what drives health care costs, is that of seven chronic diseases that drive 70-to-80 percent of the nation’s health care costs, five are preventable – and that $1 spent in health and wellness programs results in $6 in healthcare savings,” he said.

In addition to recommending health agencies use advanced IT and social media tools more extensively, the Institute for Innovation recommended that government “provide leadership in driving a wellness agenda” by implementing an enterprise-wide “wellness 2.0″ model for promoting better health care, Swedberg said.

The institute also recommended that the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense Department could play pivotal roles in encouraging employees to adapt preventative health measures, similar to incentive programs increasingly taking root in the private sector.

The reports touched on a variety of other national challenges, including the need to address a growing shortage of workers with science, technology, engineering and math skills. Each report included specific recommendations that members of the Institute for Innovation plan to take up with appropriate leaders in the administration and on Capitol Hill.

The six policy papers include:

“Empowering Citizen-Driven Government through Collaboration and Service Delivery” – The report notes: The needs and expectations of citizens have been dramatically altered by the anytime, anywhere nature of the digital age. How successfully citizens are served by government depends on understanding their roles and perspective – and recognizing that citizens interact with the government on three distinct levels: citizen partners, citizen advocates and citizen consumers.

“Educating our Workforce for Today’s Jobs in Science and Technology”- which notes: The decline of U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and the resulting shortage of workers with those skills has become a “silent national crises,” and without significant new focus and investment, the nation risks slipping further behind

“Improving Population Wellness and Reducing Growth in Healthcare Costs” – which recommends that in the face of a series of converging economic and demographic forces, the United States is in need of a model of modern healthcare that utilizes a combination of preventative health care and technological advancement to combat disease and maximize efficiency.

“Unleashing the Power Of IT Innovation to Reduce the Budget Deficit” – which highlights how adoption of information technology innovation at three federal agencies – the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – illustrate how the federal government can reduce the federal deficit by as much as $220 billion through adoption of innovative IT practices.

“Delivering Mission Results by Aligning Business and Information Technology” – which asserts that government leaders must align the business of government with the tools it needs to perform effectively, efficiently and securely or risk seriously handicapping agencies from accomplishing their mission.

“Tackling the Nation’s Biggest Challenges by Investing in Information Technology Solutions” – which concludes that if America’s leaders are to tackle a daunting array of challenges, which are on a scale that has become a challenge itself, national leaders need to make technology part of the solution and a catalyst to transform government and restore public confidence.

A seventh report, entitled “Enhancing National Security Through Responsible Information Sharing and Identity Management” is expected to be released soon, the institute said.

“We’re really just at the half-way point,” said DeCarlo. With the reports now in hand, the next task for the Institute for Innovation and each of the briefing paper’s project teams is to begin fanning out across federal agencies, the White House and Congress to deliver their recommendations personally.