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Federal workers cast online votes for best SAVE award ideas

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; B03

In just two weeks, federal workers came up with 18,000 ideas to save the government money and help it operate more efficiently, from switching to smaller, fuel-saving vehicles at the Pentagon to allowing early retirement for unproductive employees.

And workers have voted these ideas up or down 164,000 times during the same period on a Web site created by the Office of Management and Budget, a twist in President Obama's second annual SAVE award.

Other suggestions include converting parking lots at military bases to solar-panel fields that would heat government buildings, requiring double-sided printing at all agencies, rescinding calling cards for government-issued BlackBerrys and eliminating the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission ("since U.S.-Japan relations are good").

Like the solar-panel fields, many ideas involve saving the environment (although maybe not a lot of money): sweeping dirt from sidewalks and driveways outside government buildings instead of wasting water to flush them, and closing nuclear plants "so we don't have to worry about nuclear waste."

"It's been extremely exciting to see people's reactions and enthusiasm," said Jean B. Weinberg, a spokesman for the budget agency, which is running the project.

The author of the winning idea, to be chosen next month, will present it to the president in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office.

Last year, Nancy Fitchner, a program support clerk at the VA Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo., told the president that veterans should be permitted to take home leftover medications that would otherwise be discarded.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is labeling medications for patients to take home at a handful of test sites. When the program is expanded to all VA medical centers next year, it will save an estimated $3.8 million a year.

All federal employees were eligible to submit an idea. Using the tally of votes as a guide, OMB staff will narrow the best ideas to four. That list will be open to the public for "American Idol"-style online voting.

Last year the budget office shared the most promising proposals with agencies to include in their budget plans, and agencies across government adopted 20 of the ideas.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, is changing the default setting for its payroll payments to electronic from paper, saving about $4 million. The Air Force is changing its cellphone plan contracts to save $2 million over five years, OMB officials said.

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