GSA’s push to curb spending begins to bear fruit

After being chastised for squandering money on various occasions, the agency taps its employees to get the best ideas on how to reduce costs and cut waste.

It sounds like the name for a scavenger hunt, but the Great Ideas Hunt at the General Services Administration has a different kind of prize.

It is part of the "top-to-bottom review" that Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini launched after revelations about overspending at a conference led to the resignation of Administrator Martha Johnson. The Hunt, launched in May, asks employees to share their best ideas on how to improve agency operations. Close to six weeks after the submission period ended, officials announced Aug. 22 they are implementing the best of those ideas in hopes to save more than $5.5 million.

In addition to these five ideas, the agency is reviewing 40 other ideas submitted through the program, and expects to implement many of them on an ongoing basis, officials said. The original idea of the top-to-bottom review was to get the agency's employees involved in improving the agency's spending habits, Tangherlini said.

A total of 632 proposals came in from employees nationwide, and GSA staff then voted for their favorites.The five that GSA is implementing first:

  • Subscribe to digital editions of newspapers and magazines rather than print. Annual savings: Up to $630,000.
  • Scrap a redundant employee survey. Annual savings: $1 million.
  • Turn the paper-based Public Buildings Service Tenant Satisfaction Survey into a web-based version. Annual savings: $1.2 million.
  • Expand the agency's PrintWise policy agencywide so that printed documents will use both sides of a page. Annual savings: $2.7 million.
  • Open up the Great Ideas initiative to the public.

On that last one, for which the annual savings will depend on the ideas that come in and get implemented, three employees suggested GSA build an external website to allow federal partners and vendors to share ideas and feedback on how GSA can better manage its offerings.

Outside of GSA, reaction was mixed. Stephen Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, offered a tepid approval.

"At least it's a start," he said. "Most of the reforms seem like common sense, so you do wonder why they didn't just do them and not waste the time patting themselves on the back,” he said. “Of course, most of the press the GSA has gotten recently has been of the negative variety, so that certainly factors in. The biggest takeaway is don't stop there. It's not just about fixing a few things; it's about fixing a culture that has been insular and prone to waste. We will be looking for even more aggressive cost-cutting measures from GSA in the future.”

But Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, was more laudatory.

 "GSA's efforts should be applauded and replicated by other agencies,” he said.  “Government employees are filled with many cost- and productivity-saving ideas, and it's about time that senior officials listen and implement them. GSA's program might also help decrease the negative stigma on whistleblowing, as government employees become more comfortable stepping forward with good government ideas.”

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