Many businesses trying to weather tough economic times have cut costs in straightforward ways--cutting back on printing, being more energy-efficient, and eliminating needless spending. Facing its own budgetary crises, the U.S. government did not follow suit. While the president and members of Congress are engaged in complex negotiations over cuts in entitlement programs, there are many smaller, simpler ways to trim excess fat. Below are eight ways that the government can cut spending. Though they cumulatively add up to barely a dent in the federal budget as a whole, they are a reminder that arguably pointless spending is widespread in the vast government bureaucracy.
Stop Mailing a Record of Everything that the Government Does
(est. savings: $4 million)
According to the Office of Management and Budget, there were more than 4,700 federal government subscribers to the Federal Register, a daily publication of federal government notices, rules, and proposed rules. As the Federal Register is fully accessible online, cutting down on mailing would save millions of dollars (and many trees).
...And End the Printing of Everything Congress Says
(est. savings: $8 million)
Every day, the Government Printing Office prints thousands of new pages of the Congressional Record, the publication that lists every word uttered in congressional sessions--information that is also available online. In March, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl introduced the Congressional Record Printing Savings Act of 2011. The senators cited that approximately 4,551 copies are printed daily, at a cost of $240 per page (the GPO offers a more modest estimate of 3,700 daily copies). The act instructs the GPO to "determine the minimum number of copies of the Congressional Record that are necessary to be printed for archival purposes" and print no further copies.
Stop Promoting Shrubbery Awareness (and other niche agricultural programs)
(est. savings: up to $55 million)
The Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program spends on hundreds of initiatives nationwide to promote the growth and marketing of specialty crops. And while some of the initiatives may help to market potentially profitable crops, as well as preventing those crops against pests, others are so specialized as to verge on silliness. Initiatives include partnering with the Midwest Pickle Association to determine when in the pickling process to add calcium, as well as initiatives to promote locally-grown landscape plants in Arizona.
Eliminate Saturday Postal Delivery
(est. savings: $1.7 billion to $3.1 billion)
The U.S. Postal Service lost $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2010 and $2.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011. The Postal Regulatory Commission estimates that, by cutting back to five-day-a-week mail delivery, the USPS could ease its cash flow problems, saving $1.7 billion annually. The Postal Service itself puts that estimate higher, at $3.1 billion. The USPS has submitted a request for an advisory opinion on the matter from the Postal Regulatory Commission. If Congress does not block the plan, the Postal Service says it will implement five-day delivery yet in fiscal year 2011, which ends on September 30.
Fewer Flights to Macon and Athens, Georgia (among other places)
(est. savings: up to $195 million)
The Essential Air Service program was originally conceived as a way to provide air transportation services to communities far from major airport hubs. However, some of these communities are, in fact, relatively close to major airports. In his 2010 "Wastebook" detailing government programs he deemed unnecessary, Sen. Coburn estimated that cutting EAS service to Macon and Athens, Georgia, both of which are fewer than 90 minutes from the Atlanta airport, would cut $2.4 million in spending.
Replace George with Sacajawea
(est. savings: $184 million)
A March report from the Government Accountability Office estimated that replacing the $1 bill with $1 coins would save $5.5 billion over the next 30 years, or around $184 million annually. The lifespan of a $1 note is far shorter than a $1 coin, so fewer coins would have to be manufactured in the long run than bills.
Kill the Lights at the Department of Energy
(est. savings: $2.2 million)
Talk about irony. A June 2010 report from the Department of Energy's Inspector General showed that the department could save $2.2 million annually by adopting more efficient lighting systems, like installing occupancy sensors in rooms.
Stop Fed-Exing Empty Boxes
(est. savings: $350,000)
According to a Government Accountability Office report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service sends its lab samples via Federal Express' next-day service. The empty sample containers are then Fed-Exed back, once again with next-day service, which costs roughly $15 round-trip. By returning containers via ground transport, the USDA could save an estimated $350,000 per year.