GovWatch: Government business in abandoned mine could give taxpayers the shaft

The Washington Post called it “one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government.”

It’s the place where federal retirement benefits are processed, by hand, by 600 federal employees in Pennsylvania in an abandoned mine 230 feed underground. It’s terribly inefficient, the Post reported, costing $56 million annually.

“They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant to wasteful spending, and that may actually be the case here,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, of the Post’s report. “At a time of record debt, it’s irresponsible to have such an inefficient and costly process in place for federal workers.”

So why are these files processed in a giant underground mine? Because in 1960 is was a convenient place to shove 28,000 filing cabinets. The time required to process benefits by hand has decreased over the years — now it takes 61 days as opposed to 156, but that’s only because 200 more people were hired.

There have been efforts to modernize the system, at a cost of more than $100 million, but they have met limited success.

Portman and others are calling for an improvement. But for now, it looks like the federal government is in deep.

Who’s left high and dry?

A 2012 attempt to lessen the burden on taxpayers when flood waters rise was partially thwarted this month when President Obama signed legislation easing premium hikes for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The program has cost Ohioans $282.7 million since its inception in 1968, according to an Associated Press analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

The overhaul of the program two years ago was supposed to wean those in flood-prone areas off of subsidized rates, but its implementation left homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts facing rate increases they called unaffordable.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle complained on behalf of their constituents, especially in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

The new law signed by Obama on March 21 caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

According to the Associated Press about 50 percent of the 20,897 flood insurance policyholders in Ohio are still facing a premium increase, some up to 25 percent annually.

Kid tells D.C. to change its type

If the I-Team had a youth leadership award, it would go to 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani, whose government cost-cutting idea is so simple it’s brilliant:

Just change your font, federal government.

Mirchandani told CNN in a recent interview that his idea started as a science fair project at his Pittsburgh-area middle school. He was trying to figure out ways to protect the environment and save the school money on printing costs.

After a rigorous analysis, he found that by using Garamond font, which has thinner strokes, his school district could cut ink usage by nearly a quarter — and save $21,000 a year, CNN reported.

He reported his findings to the Journal for Emerging Investigators — an academic journal that specializes in the work of middle school and high school students – where publishers challenged Michandani to try applying his theory to the massive federal government.

The General Services Administration reportedly spends $467 million each year just on ink, he found, so he estimated it could save 30 percent, or $136 million a year, by switching to solely using Garamond. State governments could save another $234 million, CNN reported.

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