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Innovating in the great outdoors

Booz Allen’s unique partnership with the federal government helped turn recreation.gov into a blue-chip experience that benefits everyone

Innovating in the great outdoors
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Innovation often conjures a lonely image: a single person tinkering with a new design in the garage late into the night. But at Booz Allen, collaboration, not isolation, is what breeds innovation.

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Back in 2017, when the consulting firm first partnered with seven different federal agencies to redesign Recreation.gov at no cost to the federal government, they upended what was long considered the standard public-private contract. Instead of relying on traditional cost structures to manage the government’s website for helping visitors discover and reserve the nation’s public lands, Booz Allen uses a transaction-based fee model that lets the government and the firm share in risk, reward, results, and impact. A true public-private partnership—it uses no government money—Booz Allen invested in the development of the platform, and its income is generated from the number of transactions made on the site.

THE POWER OF COLLABORATION

The innovative contract both exemplified the kind of imaginative, what-if thinking that Booz Allen is known for and signified a new direction for the firm. “This was a target procurement for us,” says Booz Allen’s Chief Innovation Officer Susan Penfield. “It represented the shift from Booz Allen’s management consulting heritage to the delivery of modern, large-scale digital platforms.”

Interagency partners understood that the existing platform needed a modern reboot with modular architecture and open-source technologies like those used by commercial e-commerce sites. The partnership’s collaborative design meant they could modernize and reimagine the service, without the upfront financial burden.

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Booz Allen Hamilton named to Best Workplaces for innovators

The innovative collaboration that powers Recreation.gov is one example of the new ways in which the private and public sectors can come together for the benefit of consumers, and Booz Allen’s charting of this path is in part why Fast Company included the consulting firm on its list of the Best Workplaces for Innovators. Visit Recreation.gov today, and you will see this partnership in action: The site combines the intuitive, on-demand features of a customer-oriented platform such as Amazon with the inclusive and explanative details of a bustling dot-gov destination. “It is the gold-standard for public-private partnership,” Penfield says.

THE COVID EFFECT

Within a year of its launch in 2018, the revamped Recreation.gov generated more than $141 million in revenue for the federal government, fielded more than 1 million contact-center calls, and garnered more than 163 million views. In 2020, when COVID-19 led to a surge of visitors to public lands and outdoor spaces, Booz Allen’s Recreation.gov team acted quickly to establish timed entry at several locations—a solution that helped local managers decrease crowds by allowing visitors to reserve specific time slots for their arrivals.

For the Booz Allen employees in charge of running Recreation.gov, the unpredictable demand created by the pandemic was just another rewarding problem to solve. Speaking of what the Recreation.gov project has meant to Booz Allen employees, Penfield says, “We were able to attract and electrify a lot of our talent to do this work. They feel empowered by the mission and enjoy the challenges of running a world-class, e-commerce destination.”

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The company makes sure to rotate new employees in so that they can learn the tenets of modern software development—making Booz Allen a great destination for any civic-minded innovator looking to leave the world better than they found it.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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