The administration, for example, gave credit to the SAVE program for an effort to save on drug costs at the National Institutes of Health. But that cost-saving effort had started in 2008, under President George W. Bush. The White House also credited the SAVE program for an effort to digitize the X-rays of federal prisoners. That effort began in 2004, during Bush's first term.
In seven other cases, the administration honored ideas but has not yet implemented them.
In one case, an employee at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., won a SAVE Award in 2011 for suggesting a kind of lending library for space tools.
"Everybody [puts] the same special super-duper space wrench in the same place. So that the next time, you're not having to reorder this specialized part," Obama enthused, recounting the idea in a teleconference with the finalists that year. "I don't know why we didn't think of it before! "We should be doing that."
But they aren't.
NASA decided the original idea was unworkable. Tools used by engineers are huge and complicated. Any new "library" would have to be the size of a warehouse. No go. "Space is at a premium around here," said Barry Green, a Goddard official.
Instead, NASA is trying a virtual library, a database of tools. But they haven't yet found a solution for a crucial problem: How can you tell which tools are in use?
"That's the next step that we're doing," Green said. Officials are confident they will solve the problem this summer.
In four other cases, the Obama administration turned out to be less ambitious than the workers it had asked for help.
For instance, federal lawyer Kevin Korzeniewski suggested that the government stop buying expensive, hard-bound copies of the U.S. legal code. He looked the stuff up online. The books gathered dust.