NASA not waiting to adopt winning SAVE idea

Tuesday - 1/10/2012, 5:14am EST

Executive editor Jason Miller interviews Matthew Ritsko, SAVE Award winner.

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Matthew Ritsko followed in the footsteps of past SAVE Award winners by submitting an idea that was as logical as it was innovative.

The difference is NASA, for which Ritsko is a financial manager at the Goddard Space Center, already is implementing the money-saving suggestion and not waiting for the fiscal 2013 budget request.

"The idea is a lending library will be a facility that also will be supported by some software that will be able to track residual parts and tools after a spacecraft launches," Ritsko said in an interview with Federal News Radio after he presented his idea to President Barack Obama Monday. "There's a lot of parts and tools and materials left over because the nature of our work forces us to have spares and extra pieces of equipment and tools to help develop the spacecraft. After a project is done, we do exchange these tools and materials between projects, but often times it becomes difficult to track and maintain them. So by institutionalizing this, it makes it a more formal process instead of an informal process, and that makes us more efficient."

President Barack Obama talks with Matthew Ritsko, the winner of the 2011 Presidential Securing Americans' Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award, in the Oval Office, Jan. 9. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Ritsko, who has been in government and worked at NASA for six years, said the space agency has brought together a group of experts to figure out how to develop a pilot program to see if the costs are scalable and to help the culture shift of collecting and tracking these tools and equipment.

"We've also done some work that has resulted in spinoff as a result of the SAVE Award," he said. "After some folks heard about it, we had some separate individuals that were working on a leadership development program at NASA with some students from the University of Maryland. And they did a Six Sigma analysis on our equipment and tool sharing process, and determined a way that we also could start documenting in our property management system if equipment could be reused or shared or exchanged across projects. The best part about that is making that change to the NASA property management system is free. There's no actual charge or implementation costs that would be upfront with that."

The Office of Management and Budget will submit Ritsko's idea as well as several others that came from the SAVE Award contest as part of the President's 2013 budget request scheduled to go to Congress Feb. 6.

OMB announced in November Ritsko's idea of a NASA lending library received more than 19,000 votes from the public to win the 2011 award.

This was the third year for the SAVE Awards. Last year Trudy Givens of the Bureau of Prisons won for her idea to stop printing copies of the Federal Register.

In 2009, Nancy Fichtner of the Veterans Affairs Department won for her idea of letting patients take home medications after their stay at a VA hospital ends.

Like the other winners, Ritsko, 28, met with the President in the Oval Office to present his idea. He brought his parents and talked a little pro football about how the Pittsburgh Steelers lost last weekend.

"It was a great conversation. He asked me about my family and my upbringing," he said. "My parents actually came down and were able to experience meeting the President as well. He asked me about the status of the idea, where we are currently at with it and he expressed that these types of things are incredibly important, especially where we are at with the economy and how federal workers can make a difference every day."

He said it meant even more to meet Obama as a federal worker. He said the meeting and winning the SAVE Award was something he would always remember.

"I think it says a lot about the NASA workforce," Ritsko said. "I received well over 300 emails from the NASA community just congratulating me, thanking me and just wanting to know more about the experience. I think that is one of the more humbling pieces of this whole experience. The NASA community really reached out to me and hearing support from them was very touching."

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