• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Pinching pennies

An interesting look at the work of five-member Government Efficiency Group within the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, charged with finding ways to save the state money:

Inside a big state agency is a small group of people whose job it is to pinch pennies to save taxpayer dollars.

Here's how serious they are: When asked to find out if the state needed to build a new parking garage to accommodate its large fleet of state-owned vehicles, they questioned not just the need for the garage but for the cars.

They made their case by secretly placing pennies on tires of randomly selected vehicles in the state motor pool, then checked back daily to see if they'd moved. Weeks later, there were still pennies on tire tops everywhere.

It's how the five-member Government Efficiency Group inside the state's 1,400-employee Office of Management and Budget convinced their boss to cut the state's fleet by 2,500 cars.

[. . .]

Given the $1 billion shortage in state revenues this year, they're focused on more frugality.

It's not easy. The big cost savings came early in their tenure after the state OMB was established and a system of performance metrics were put into place for state agencies.

The efficiency team scrutinized all spending. They found that different state agencies were buying the same products at different prices. By instituting bulk purchasing of office supplies, for example, they reduced the cost of a stapler from $6 to $1, and saved about $4 million.

That's a fraction of the billions that get spent every year by state government, but it sent a message.

Johnston said state employees started coming forward with their own suggestions. One of his favorite: A state Department of Revenue employee who suggested his agency start sharing its surplus of paper clips, pulled from the tax returns of taxpayers who'd paper-clipped their payments to their forms.

“Who'd have known there was an excess of paper clips if we hadn't started asking questions?” Johnston said.

Many of us have had the unpleasant experience of working with or for penny-pinchers such as these, thye kind of people who actually delight in keeping track of paper clips. But when they're working for the government and it's our pennies they're pinching, we like them a little more, huh?