The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 28, 2013

The 80,000-Plus Budget-Cutting Ideas That Got Away




Over time, the president's website became a Wikipedia of Waste: A first-of-its-kind compilation of thousands of complaints and suggestions bubbling up from thousands of government cubicles across the land.

In addition to the budgets, paper calendars and uniforms, they complained about the mind-bending Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires extra legalese at the end of some forms, often making them one page longer.

"It seems contrary to the reduction of paperwork," one worker said in 2012.

In all, 16 of those ideas — four per year — have been honored as finalists for a presidential "SAVE Award." In addition to those, the administration took 48 other ideas and included them in Obama's annual budget proposals over the past three years.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which oversees the SAVE program, could not provide a detailed accounting of what it had saved. But officials were clear that they count it a success. "It's important as part of a cultural change," said Danny Werfel, an OMB official, "to make sure that we are focused on every dollar."

The Washington Post surveyed more than 25 agencies and offices charged with implementing the program's ideas. It got back details on all but eight of the ideas Obama chose, That review found at least 28 cases where the program seemed to work as promised. A good idea was submitted. Then Obama made it a reality.

Those ideas included reducing mailings of the Federal Register (since workers read it online): That saved $2.9 million. Another one highlighted a head-slapping waste at the Agriculture Department: Its labs were shipping empty boxes and used gloves across the country at next-day-air rates. That stopped, with savings of $282,000 per year.

In all, those changes save more than $234 million per year. But other chosen ideas have had a less impressive real-world impact, or none at all. In 20 cases, for instance, the ideas were old ones that agencies had already started doing, for other reasons.

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