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Frequently Asked Questions: The America COMPETES Act and DHS Prize Authority

Commonly asked questions about the Competition Program.

America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Reauthorization Act of 2010.  The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 was signed by President Obama on January 4, 2011 (Public Law 111-358, Jan. 4, 2011) “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010” Section 105 [15 U.S.C. § 3719]).  Section 105 of this Act added Section 24 (Prize Competitions) to the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980.  The Act provides agency heads with the authority to conduct prize competitions in order to stimulate innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their agencies’ core missions, as called for in the President’s Strategy for American Innovation and the 2010 OMB Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government (OMB Memorandum M-10-11, March 8, 2010).

The DHS Secretary delegated the Department’s America COMPETES Act prize authority to the Under Secretary for Science and Technology (USST).  The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is tasked with researching and organizing scientific, engineering, and technological resources into technological tools to help protect the homeland. The S&T Directorate will leverage this newly delegated authority to support the Department’s Research and Development strategy through a competitive awards program that stimulates innovation and advances the Department’s mission while also supporting the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE).

A prize competition is a contest in which a prize(s) is offered to a winning participant(s) where success depends on meeting established criteria and the broader goal of stimulating innovation that advances the mission of the Department or the Homeland Security Enterprise.   The competition results in an award, of either monetary or non-monetary value, presented to the winner of a competition conducted in accordance with the Act.

The America COMPETES Act requires that participants:

  • Agree to the rules of the competition.
  • Are either (a) in the case of an entity, incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, or (b) in the case of an individual, a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States.
  • Are not a federal entity or federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.
  • Assume risks and waive claims against the federal government and it related entities.
  • Obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility, in amounts determined by the head of an agency, for claims by third parties and the federal government.

A federal entity could be a federal agency or an organization or individual that is currently funded (directly or indirectly) by the federal government to conduct work within the technical domain represented by the specific challenge, or has previously been funded by the federal government for work which will constitute any part of the prize challenge submission.

  • The scope of your employment means you are not eligible to win prizes in federally sponsored prize competitions for work performed during your duty hours, or that falls within the scope of your duties as a federal employee. The scope of your employment may also extend to work performed on your own time, so all federal employees should consult their agency Ethics Officer prior to competing in a prize competition if the technical domain represented by the specific challenge is similar to your position description or specific federal duties. As a federal employee operating within the scope of your employment, you are welcome to solve the federally sponsored prize competitions, but you will not receive additional monetary compensation.

Yes. Federal agencies may contract for, and some agencies, can accept volunteer collaborating services to assist with the design, judging, or others aspects of administering the prize competition. However, individuals or organizations that collaborate on the design, judging, or other aspects of administering a prize competition will not be eligible to compete in the same prize competitions offered by the sponsoring agency(s). Consult your general counsel's office.

Yes. The law says that in selecting topics for prize competitions, the head of an agency shall consult widely both within and outside the federal government, and may empanel advisory committees. You can suggest topics via the link provided at prizeauthority@hq.dhs.gov

A Judge(s) may come from within or outside the federal government, as well as the private sector. Any committee, board, commission, panel, task force, or similar entity, created solely for the purpose of judging prize competitions is exempted from the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.) under 15 USC § 3719(k)(4).

  • In addition, agencies are prohibited from appointing any judge who (1) has personal or financial interests in a competition, (2) is an employee, officer, director, or agent of any entity that is a registered participant in a competition, or (3) has a familial or financial relationship with an individual who is a registered participant (15 USC § 3719(k)(2)(A) and (B)).

Contact the DHS S&T Prize and Small Business Innovation Office at prizeauthority@hq.dhs.gov

Last Updated: 01/12/2023
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