DOI Prize Competitions

Why Prize Competitions?

Prize competitions are a time honored method of highlighting societal challenges and advancing technological development.  Notable prizes include the Longitude Prize, offered in 1714 by the British Parliament to accurately determine the longitude at sea, and the Food Preservation Prize offered by the French military in 1795 to develop a new method to preserve food to feed troops during a military campaign. The first led to the development of the marine chronometer; the second to the development of the food canning industry.

With the burgeoning interest in using prize challenges to advance technologies, by 2009 more than 350 challenges were being offered with aggregate prize purses larger than $100,000.  In 2010, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XCHALLENGE offered $1.4 Million to the teams that demonstrated the ability to recover more than 2,500  gallons per minute from the sea surface with an Oil Recovery Efficiency of more than 70%.  Building on this, and other examples, Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (ACRA) in December 2010, which essentially allowed any Department to offer prizes to accelerate technological development.

The increase in interest within the Department in using prize challenges to advance bureaus’ missions led to the development of the Departmental Guidelines for offering and administering prizes in accordance with ACRA. These Guidelines went into effect in April 2015. This has enabled bureaus to explore and implement the use of such competitions to advance technologies to address mission needs, and record several notable activities and accomplishments.