Federal Workers Offer Ideas To Save Taxpayer Dough

SAVE Award

The SAVE Award encourages federal employees to come up with ways the government can "cut waste, save money and boost performance." The winner gets to present his or her idea in person to President Obama at the White House. Melissa Block speaks with two of the finalists: Marjorie Cook, a USDA food inspector, and Paul Behe, a paralegal specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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A contest sponsored by the White House is challenging Federal workers themselves to find ways to save the government money. The SAVE Award was launched last year to encourage Federal employees to come up with ways the government can waste and boost performance. The winner gets to present his or her idea in person to President Obama at the White House.


Last year, 20 proposals wound up in the president's budget. Well, this year's crop of 18,000 submissions has been narrowed down to four finalists and we're joined now by two of them.

Marjorie Cook is a USDA food inspector from Gobles, Michigan. Welcome to the program, Marjorie.

Ms. MARJORIE COOK (Inspector, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA): Thank you.

BLOCK: And Paul Behe is a paralegal specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome to you.

Mr. PAUL BEHE (Paralegal Specialist, U.S. Customs and Border Protection): Thank you.

BLOCK: And let's hear your ideas. Marjorie, you first. You are actually just wrapping up a food inspection at Fillmore Beef in Holland, Michigan. What's your idea for how to save the government money in your line of work?

Ms. COOK: My idea was to have the sample boxes that we send to the laboratory, come back to us under a ground fare instead of a overnight express fare. We have plenty of boxes at our site where we can send additional samples, so we don't need the boxes sent back to us right away.

BLOCK: These are empty containers. In other words, you send out a sample by express mail, right?

Ms. COOK: Yes.

BLOCK: And then you're saying when they send it back to you, you don't need it to get it back so fast. It can be regular mail.

Ms. COOK: Right, it needs to go there overnight express but not come back overnight express.

BLOCK: And, Paul, what about your idea for Customs and Border Protection?

Mr. BEHE: Well, as dictated by statute, all seizures of a domestic value of over $5,000 must be advertised in the newspaper of general circulation, in the judicial district where the property was seized for three consecutive weeks. And my suggestion is that Customs and Border Protection institute online advertising, much the same as the Department of Justice has been doing for the last couple of years.

Online advertising would allow us to clear our backlog. It would speed the seizures through the forfeiture process. And therefore, we would not have as much money being paid out to storage facilities. And the process of handling advertising in Customs and Border Protection is a little bit cumbersome. And online would offer us a chance to do it a lot more quickly.

BLOCK: So take those ads out of the newspaper, put them online. I guess that's something newspapers wouldn't be too happy about though.

Mr. BEHE: No, more than likely newspapers wouldnt be happy about that. But these are funds that we can't afford to leave laying on the table, when they could be used in more higher impact programs in Customs and Border Protection.

BLOCK: Are you both the kinds of people who, you know, around the house are always thinking of ways to economize, to do things more efficiently? Marjorie, are you?

Ms. COOK: Yes, Im always shutting off lights and saving energy. And you got to do all that kind of stuff nowadays.

BLOCK: Yeah. Paul, are you too?

Mr. BEHE: The same. In this economy, we have to. And we need to be the role models for our children, for our grandchildren. And wherever you can save money in a program, whether it's at work or, you know, at home in your own personal finances, it's something that you have to be done to be a good steward of the funds that you have.

BLOCK: How do you find out, by the way, that you were a finalist? Marjorie?

Ms. COOK: I got a call from the Office of Management.

BLOCK: And, Paul, you got a phone call too?

Mr. BEHE: Yes.

BLOCK: So no first-class postage was wasted getting the notifications out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BEHE: Exactly and...

Ms. COOK: Exactly.

Mr. BEHE: ...all of the communications have been online.

Ms. COOK: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Okay. Well, you're going up against each other I guess for top honors. But I wish you both the best of luck.

Ms. COOK: Well, thank you very much.

Mr. BEHE: Thank you.

BLOCK: Marjorie Cook is a food inspector for the USDA in Gobles, Michigan. And Paul Behe is a paralegal specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Cleveland. They are two of the four finalists for the government's SAVE Award, rewarding ideas to save money and cut waste.

And the White House invites everyone to vote online. If you want to help choose the winner, you'll find a link at NPR.org.

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