OMB in search of more money saving ideas

Thursday - 7/14/2011, 6:47pm EDT

Federal News Radio's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Federal employees over the last two years have submitted more than 56,000 ideas on how the government can save money. And the Office of Management and Budget believes there are thousands more out there.

OMB today launched the third annual Saving Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award program for employees to submit money-saving ideas and have them voted upon by other federal workers and the public.

"The SAVE award is an essential part of the Campaign to Cut Waste because workers on the front line know better than anyone how to make government more efficient and effective," said Jeff Zients, OMB's deputy director for management and chief performance officer, in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "The SAVE award is a really important part of overall strategy to change the culture of government. Individual employees now know they have the ability and the responsibility for making government operations more efficient. This is now ingrained in the culture in the government. It's not just the annual SAVE award itself. It's what the SAVE award has created in terms of a change in the culture that really is a part of frontline employees' attitude and approach day-to-day."

Starting today and running through July 29, employees can submit ideas and vote on them. So far feds have offered 749 suggestions, including stop minting the penny, combining Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration and reducing the workweek to 35 hours instead of 40. More than 1,500 employees have voted on these ideas already.

OMB will name finalists in September where feds and the general public will vote for the winner.

The employee with the winning idea will present it to the President in the November-December timeframe, while the rest of the finalists and other ideas could be included in the fiscal 2013 budget request sent to Congress in February.

Zients said the 2011 version of the SAVE awards is very similar to the 2010 program.

The main difference is OMB is calling on agency chief financial officers to play a larger role this year.

OMB controller Danny Werfel issued guidance at the end of June asking CFOs to provide a list of ranked SAVE Award ideas to their OMB Resource Management Office (RMO) based on their ability to reduce costs in a concrete and quantifiable way, as well as the ability to improve the way the government operates by improving quality of output, simplifying processes or increasing the speed of government operations.

Zients said over the last two years the SAVE awards has helped the government avoid spending or actually save hundreds of millions of dollars. Zients did not have a specific estimate of total savings.

In 2009, Nancy Fichtner from the Veterans Affairs Department won for her idea to have veterans take medication home with them instead of the hospital throwing it away.

Last year, Trudy Givens from the Bureau of Prisons won for her idea to stop printing and delivering the Federal Register to federal employees. Zients said Givens idea will save the government $16 million through 2015.

OMB also is ensuring the implementation of several other ideas, including one for the Food and Drug Administration to stop shipping empty containers overnight. Another idea to consolidate cell phone plans is coming to fruition in the Strategic Sourcing initiative for wireless plans.

"We also as needed will work with deputy secretaries, CFOs, chief acquisition officers and others across government through our councils to drive implementation and share best practices," Zients said.

OMB also is asking agencies to update them on their progress in implementing these ideas.

"The ideas are only as good as the implementation," Zients said. "We are tracking the implementation very carefully and ensuring these good ideas are implemented, not only in the agencies where the frontline employee have identified them, but across government where applicable."

Zients said he's not concerned about a lack of momentum for the SAVE awards as it enters its third year.

"Knowing it's a difficult time across the board, it is also a time when people are really looking for opportunities to do more with less and bring those opportunities forward," he said. "The track record that these ideas are being implemented and making a difference is really building momentum so we have very high expectations that this third year will be the best year."

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