Money-saving ideas put four federal workers in running for award

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Want to help the federal government save some money? Make sure to vote Thursday in a contest designed to help Uncle Sam cut costs. The winner gets a face-to-face meeting with President Obama before Christmas, and the winning idea will be included in his 2011 budget.

The Office of Management and Budget launched the SAVE Award in September, an effort to solicit cost-savings ideas from rank-and-file federal employees. The agency received more than 38,000 submissions from workers, and the White House announced the four finalists Monday. The OMB is still calculating the total potential cost savings from each of the ideas.

The four finalists work far from Washington and have rallied colleagues, friends, family -- and even their children's classmates -- to log on to to vote for their ideas.

Julie Fosbender works for the U.S. Forest Service at Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. She suggested that each national forest should deposit its revenue at a nearby local bank, instead of sending the money to a central processing facility. More than 60 colleagues from across the country e-mailed her earlier this week when they learned she was a finalist.

"They agree with my idea, because they're tired of doing it the old way," Fosbender said.

Huston Prescott works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Alaska and noticed that different federal housing agencies sent different inspectors to the same subsidized housing units to conduct similar inspections. Prescott wants HUD to send just one person to do the inspections for all of the agencies.

"It seemed rather redundant to send people out to do the same thing, not to mention the people at the developments having to spend time with each person each time," he said.

Nancy Fichtner works at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo. She wants the department to permit veterans leaving VA hospitals to take any leftover medication home with them. Otherwise the hospital just throws the medicine out, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. Fichtner submitted her idea on the last day of the contest and said she was shocked when officials called her with the good news.

"I know it's a great idea, and I thought it would go places, but you don't get a call from the White House every day," she said.

Christie Dickson works for the Social Security Administration in Birmingham, Ala., and wants the agency to give people the option to schedule their appointments online instead of only over the phone. Her colleagues are thrilled to think she might get a chance to meet Obama at the White House.

"Who wouldn't want to go there? And then of course to go there and talk to him about my idea? That's awesome," Dickson said.

Though only one federal worker will meet with Obama, all four ideas are likely to be implemented, the OMB said.

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