From binder clips to sequester pads, one fed takes small steps to tackle big budget problems

Thursday - 8/29/2013, 6:43pm EDT

It started with a binder clip, well, thousands of binder clips to be exact.

Due to the nature of its work, the Office of the Federal Register within the National Archives and Records Administration receives lots of documents and records from other agencies. These records arrive on disks stored in plastic CD cases and as printed documents held together by binder clips.

"I just saw so many binder clips and I walked by them for enough weeks, enough months," said Joseph Frankovic, a writer-editor at Federal Register. "And it just started to bother me that we were simply recycling these binder clips when they could be used easily another time if not another five or six times. I just felt that I should do something about it, because it was in my power to do so and I did."

In his free time, Frankovic began collecting all of the binder clips in his office, packing them in plastic bags and sending them via courier to other NARA offices in the Washington, D.C., region.

So far, Frankovic has sent out more than 10,000 binder clips, and he just shipped off his 1,000th CD case.

He's now expanded the project outside the D.C. region and is paying out of his own pocket to send binder clips and CD jewel cases to be reused at NARA offices in Fort Worth, Texas, and Perris, Calif.

"The reason I cover the postage myself when it comes to the NARA sites is simply for appearance, because there is a concern about NARA appropriated funds being used," he said. "I don't even want the appearance to cause a problem."

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Frankovic said he originally called the project "The Clip Dissemination Program." But, when the program expanded beyond binder clips to also include the surplus CD cases, he decided to change the name to "The Pausterity Project," a play on the words "posterity" and "austerity."

"I was looking for a name that had a little bit of an edge to it," he said. "And I chose the name because I think there's a certain degree of ambiguity inherent in it. It's hard to tag it on the political spectrum."

A variety of concerns motivated Frankovic to start The Pausterity Project.

"By reusing materials, that saves energy," he said. "You don't have to remake them. It's less of an expenditure of energy to reuse things instead of digging up virgin natural resources and then manufacturing these products. It's environmentally friendly for the same reasons."

Beyond the environmental concerns, Frankovic sees The Pausterity Project as a small way to deal with the larger budget problems facing the U.S. government. Reusing materials saves money.

He admits that his third recycling effort — sequester pads — is something of a tongue-in-cheek protest against the recent automatic budget cuts federal employees have had to endure.

"Just about every federal worker feels a bit of frustration that the sequester was a program that was implemented from the top and basically pushed down," he said. "And one gets the impression that it was done by people who really don't have a sensitivity or thorough knowledge of what goes on on the lower levels of the federal workforce."

To make the sequester pads, Frankovic takes used paper from his office, cuts it into small rectangles, drills holes in the stacks of paper and binds them with zip ties.

In the end, The Pausterity Project is Frankovic's way of encouraging fellow feds to look around their offices and find small problems that they can fix.

"As we get our act together and we work more efficiently, we might even be able to apply a little pressure on our federal colleagues… who are of the elected type, and we might be able to exert some pressure on them to clean up their working environment and the way they work, the same way they applied it on us," he said.

Charley Barth, the director of the Office of the Federal Register, said he was proud of Frankovic for coming up with the idea for the Pausterity Project and for acting on it.

"He is making a huge difference in helping improve morale in the office," Barth said. "In an era of sequestration, budget cuts, travel/training restrictions, etc. ... Joseph is a beacon of light and showing other federal employees another way of coping with our current fiscal constraints."