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Public Vote on Ways to SAVE

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By Gautham Nagesh December 7, 2009

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FedBlog guest blogger Dan Munz had an interesting post on Monday about the White House allowing the public to vote on the president's Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award:

For the unfamiliar, the SAVE Award is an award for the idea, submitted by a government employee, that will most effectively cut red tape, reduce government bureaucracy, and generally make government more efficient and un-waste-y. The Obama administration has opened voting on the top suggestions to the general public, and the winning idea will be submitted in the President's FY2011 budget. The winner will also get to meet the President, which is nifty. I've just gone through the top four ideas, and they're not bad:
  • An employee at a national forest in West Virginia wants to radically simplify how the government processes fees that are collected from the public.
  • A HUD employee from Alaska notes that information on subsidized housing is often collected in multiple, redundant formats and instances.
  • A VA employee in Colorado wants veterans who are discharged from VA hospitals to be able to take their remaining medication with them, rather than having it thrown away.
  • An SSA employee in Alabama wants to enable appointment scheduling online.

These all reflect a good deal of common sense, and I think do a real service in showing the public that government employees aren't just cogs in a massive federal system; they, like the rest of us, are constantly surveying their environments, looking for new efficiencies or ways to just do a better job. And the White House is to be applauded for putting these to a public vote. The value here isn't just "transparency" for the public, but the ability for the White House to align spending decisions with actual public priorities.

Dan also questions exactly how much money any of these efforts could save, a fair question considering the initial investment that would be required to establish the type of systems that would schedule Social Security appointments, collect housing data or process fees from the public. But all three seem like opportunities to leverage technology to improve government service.

The Obama administration has gained a lot of traction in the good government community by proposing these sorts technology upgrades as a tool for cutting costs in the government. Three out of the four proposals above seem to fit within that philosophy. But veteran federal IT observers are well aware that technology projects not accompanied by compelling business cases are often doomed to failure before they even get started.

Which is what makes it curious that the White House thinks the public is capable of judging these business cases on the basis of a few sentences. I've been covering federal technology full-time for two years and I still wouldn't pretend to comprehend the variety of competing factors that determine whether a project is worth pursuing. So I find it hard to believe that the average visitor to WhiteHouse.gov is informed enough to make that type of decision.

Then again, this may be another one of those times when appearing to care what the public thinks about fixing the government is more effective politically than actually attempting to fix the government.

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