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SAVE '1o Uncovers the Obvious Things the Feds Could Do to Save Cash

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, November 8 2010

Last year's SAVE Award winner, Department of Veterans Affairs clerk Nancy Fichtner. Fichtner proposed letting VA patients take home unfinished medications from their hospital stays.

With its SAVE Awards, the Obama administration is aiming to tap the wisdom of the many thousands of employees who work for the federal government, getting their first-hand takes on ways that the country can start edging towards being more efficient and less wasteful. The second round of SAVE (or, in long form, Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Awards has just entered the public voting stage, with some 18,000 ideas having been winnowed down first by employee voting and later a selection team from OMB, leaving us with four finalist ideas, one of which will be presented to President Obama.

Intriguing idea. But what jumps out of the quartet of this year's SAVE finalists is that the the United States federal government has some extremely basic work to do in operating as a modern entity. We're talking about the federal government saving taxpayer dollars by employing such techniques as using the Internet and not shipping empty containers using priority mail. On the one hand, it's a little depressing. On the other hand, such low hanging fruit! Your 2010 SAVE Award finalists:

  • A USDA food inspector from Michigan thinks that they should stop slapping "Express Next Day" labels on empty containers on the way back from lab testing.
  • A worker in the Mine Safety and Health Administration's IT center suggests having mine operators submit their quarterly reports online, rather than on paper and through the mail.
  • A paralegal in DHS's Cleveland office advocates for posting notices of property seized by Customs officials on the web, rather than in newspapers.
  • And a employee with the Bureau of Prisons in Wisconsin recommends that federal employees should be required to opt-in to receiving paper copies of the Federal Register, instead of setting the default to automatically mailing out the document, given that it's available to all the world on the World Wide Web.

To be fair, the obviousness of some of these ideas isn't really a strike against the whole SAVE Award concept, given that part of the real battle of rooting out waste is, first, identifying its particulars, and then letting someone in a position of power (often outside the relevant chain of command for the thing being wasteful) know about it. Putting a name on the thing, in public, ups its chances of being taken care of.

As mentioned above, this year's SAVE Awards includes the chance for the public at large to vote on which of the ideas will be presented to the president directly. So go ahead and vote if you'd like. Seems a shame that there's no "all of the above" option.