Obama Harkens Back to our Puritan & Quaker Roots for Savings

Without question, our most renowned and well published social philosopher in the history of the U.S. was Benjamin Franklin. His Bostonian Puritan birthright and teenage flight to Quaker Philadelphia where he established his own newspaper positioned him perfectly for this honor. Not surprisingly, most of his writings and advice stemmed from the thrifty values of his youth and adopted hometown -- principally those of saving and frugal spending. One of Franklin's most famous prescriptions: "A penny saved is a penny earned" has come back to roost in the Obama Administration.

According to the Wall Street Journal (hat-tip: Carrie Ericson), "Three months ago, President Barack Obama ordered his cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year to emphasize the point that he, too, was serious about belt-tightening. They responded with $102 million. That is 0.006% of the estimated federal deficit." The Republican response to this aggregate savings -- "If the administration produces $100 million in savings every 98 days for the rest of Mr. Obama's term, the savings will total $1.5 billion, or three days of interest on the federal debt" -- is not only cynical, it completely misses the point.

The areas that have been trimmed are astonishingly basic and simple such as using the "double-sided photocopying" feature that was invented 25 years ago. Other cut backs include "packing more soldiers on R&R flights ... no longer painting Forest Service vehicles from white to green upon purchase ... [and] deleting inactive internet accounts". My favorite is "The Coast Guard realized that maintenance schedules for its 1,800 small boats assumed they were for recreational use such as water-skiing or bass-fishing. By adjusting maintenance schedules to reflect what the Coast Guard actually does, the agency discovered it can save $2 million a year."

The lesson in all this has nothing to do with its infinitesimal contribution to reducing the deficit but that this wasteful spending has been unchecked until now. The Journal also reported that "White House budget office spokesman Ken Baer said ... The cost-cutting effort wasn't a one-off program ... [and that the] budget office will again go scouting for cost cuts and efficiencies". Let's hope so but beyond hoping, wouldn't it make more sense to establish corporate style procurement management models that reward savings and reprimand waste? Inserting a culture of frugality to government spend will be daunting given the culture of waste and neglect that is so well rooted but it can be done. And we can start by not pooh poohing initiatives that have curtailed $102 Million of waste in just 3 months -- even if our "representatives" dismiss the result as mere pennies.

William Busch

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