What 56,000 Money-Saving Ideas From Uncle Sam Can Teach You

Here's how the White House SAVE Award can inspire you and your business.
Writer, speaker, researcher, Wise Bread
August 19, 2011

Recent initiatives notwithstanding, the U.S. government isn’t exactly the poster child for fiscal restraint, but federal employees have a boatload of money-saving ideas. Chances are, your employees have some good ideas, too. All you need to do is ask.

Since 2009, the White House SAVE Award program has yielded 56,000 ideas for cutting costs, reducing waste and increasing efficiency. What do the employees get for their submissions? Practically nothing. Government bureaucrats pick the top four ideas, regular Jill’s and Joe’s have the final vote, and the winner gets to present the idea directly to the Commander-in-Chief.

There have been two winners so far.

Don’t toss those meds

Nancy Fichter from the Department of Veteran Affairs saw the extraordinary waste of medications that were simply thrown in the garbage when patients were discharged. Her suggestion to find a way to allow the medications to be used by people who needed them landed her the 2009 award.

E-mail is cheaper

The 2010 winner was Trudy Givens from the Bureau of Prisons. She suggested that the Federal Register, which was mailed to 8,000 federal employees every day, should be e-mailed instead. When an additional 25,000 private sector readers were asked to opt in to continue hard- copy delivery (for a fee), all but 500 chose to just have it e-mailed.

So far, only 18 of the SAVE ideas have been implemented. Most involved replacing paper processes with electronic ones. A suggestion to add motion detecting light switches and high efficiency fluorescent light bulbs is expected to save HUD $4 million over three years. That might not seem like a lot in light of the $14 trillion debt, but a million here, a million there, and pretty soon it adds up.

Your own SAVE Award

So how do you get your staff, or even your customers, vendors, and advisers involved in a SAVE program of your own?

  • Decide on what you want out of the program: i.e. save money, increase revenue, increase efficiency, improve quality, improve morale, etc.
  • Require that suggestions be specific, practical and measurable.
  • Emphasize quality over quantity.
  • Make sure everyone feels safe being honest (i.e. allow anonymous entries, monitor entries before publication to make sure no one is using the process for vendettas).
  • Make the submission process simple.
  • Explain, up front, how winners will be selected and by whom.
  • Consider giving participants a vote in the process, but guard against popularity contests.
  • Let participants know what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Offer quick feedback on all ideas. If you have to reject any, let the submitter know why and encourage them to try again.
  • Use social networking to encourage participation and build enthusiasm.
  • Offer prizes for the most unusual, most creative, wackiest, best ideas–a feature in the newsletter, gift cards, dinner with (or without) the boss, or even a percentage of the savings.
  • Make it clear that there are no sacred cows (unless there are).
  • Determine how you’ll handle similar submissions.
  • Notify the winners privately before going public; some people may not want public accolade.
  • Take all the suggestions to heart; nothing will turn people off quicker than feeling like their ideas fell into a black hole.

It won't take long for the ideas to start flowing in. Just don't expect 56,000 of them right away. After all, Uncle Sam probably has a much (MUCH) larger staff than you do.