Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saving Taxpayer Dollars: Specks and Logs

    In mid-December, the White House announced the four finalists in President Obama's fourth annual SAVE Award competition for federal employees.
Since its creation in 2009, President Obama’s SAVE Award [Securing Americans Value and Efficiency] has served as a vehicle for Federal employees to offer firsthand their ideas on how to improve performance and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.  
Today, we are announcing the four finalists for the 2012 SAVE Award.  Keeping with tradition, the winner will present his or her idea to the President in the Oval Office, and other proposals will be directed to agencies for potential action or inclusion in the President’s Budget.
The final four ideas are:
Frederick Winter, Shift to Senior Transit Fares.  Frederick Winter of the Department of Education proposes that all Federal employees who receive public transit benefits shift from regular transit fare to the reduced senior fare as soon as they are eligible.  In the D.C. area, this change would lower the cost of the employee’s travel by 50 percent, with no loss in the effective benefits for the employee. 
Angela Leroux, Reduce Employee Shuttle Buses.  Many Federal agencies maintain buses to shuttle employees from one government office to another for work purposes.  Too often these vehicles sit idle or travel their routes with just a few passengers.  Angela Leroux at the Internal Revenue Service recommends that agencies eliminate or consolidate the bus service and encourage the use of conference and video calls, or provide metro cards to those with a need to travel. 
James Szender, Use Digital Transcription.  A written transcript of Federal meetings or hearings is often required.  James Szender of the Department of Interior proposes, whenever possible, using digital equipment for transcripts instead of hiring a court reporter, since using digital transcription is significantly less expensive than contracting with a certified court reporter to attend, record, and transcribe the proceedings. 
Laurie Dempsey, Post Customs Inspection Information Online.  Customs and Border Protection is required to post a bulletin weekly that lists all imported items that have completed the customs inspection process.  Currently, Customs ports across the country print this bulletin, which can be hundreds of pages long, and post it in the customs house.  Laurie Dempsey from the Department of Homeland Security suggests instead posting the bulletin electronically on CBP.gov.  This change would save paper, reduce costs, and make it easier for the public to find out what items have been inspected without having to visit the facility in person. 
    To summarize these cream of the crop, top of the heap, head and shoulders above the rest ideas for saving the hard-earned money of the taxpayers: Don’t pay more than required for a transit pass, stop running buses no one rides, stop using 18th century transcription methods, and... use the Internet.

    These ideas are certainly worthy to be implemented, and this is not intended as a slight against the four individuals listed above who have called attention to this waste. What's disturbing is that it took a contest in President Obama's fourth year in office to smoke them out.  Seriously: post customs bulletins on the internet instead of hundreds of sheets of paper on a bulletin board in the customs house?  Didn't Joe Biden already uncover this one in the Campaign to Cut Waste? What other nonsensical, money-wasting boondoggles continue to lurk below the surface?  Could federal workers be hoarding them, hoping to enter them in next year's contest? (Just kidding.)

    And where are the REAL money-saving ideas? Like stop paying farmers billions to keep food prices higher.  Stop spending billions to have the federal government via the Department of Education interfere in local education systems.  Stop spending billions to boost unnecessary "green energy" initiatives whose time, based on the market, has not yet come.  Stop spending trillions to (unsuccessfully) "eliminate poverty" while instead often exacerbating the problem.

    There's a Biblical principle in Luke 6:41-42 that, though not a perfect fit, has an application here:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. [ESV]
     The specks are important, and let's not overlook them.  But what we really need to do is start working on the logs.

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