- Such discoveries would clearly be useful if they help mitigate an impact or help an evacuation.
- They would also be useful in scientific and resource assessment terms.
- There's a lot of amateur astronomy talent, motivation, and hardware that could be brought to bear on the problem.
- Good educational results could be expected from such a competition.
- The professional astronomical community is quite receptive to help from amateur astronomers, which is not the case in all space fields.
- Work on the problem would promote useful technologies and businesses (optics, image processing, computer hardware and software in general, etc).
- Work on the problem would promote scientifically useful discovery of non-threatening asteroids and comets.
- The competition wouldn't need to "break the bank". Larger prizes would be better, but modest prizes should be able to encourage useful efforts.
I didn't know it at the time, but it a similar idea was considered years earlier. The NASA Space Architect Prize Study I just posted on describes an Asteroid Bounty prize for discovery of Earth-Crossing Asteroids, with a big bonus for any discoveries whose trajectory passes closer to the Earth than the Moon. The goals are compatible with the ones I considered.
The Asteroid Bounty hasn't become a NASA Centennial Challenge like I speculate happened with some of the other ideas considered in the Prize Study, but I still think it's a great idea. NASA could still step up to the plate, or the Planetary Society with their Target Earth effort, or Sky and Telescope magazine, or telescope vendors, or any number of other organizations.
See Planetary Defense blog for ongoing discussions of related topics.