Teenagers of America: Congress Will Use Your Ideas for Bills

That is, if they actually work.

National Journal
Elahe Izad
Add to Briefcase
Elahe Izad
April 2, 2014, 4:31 a.m.

Re­mem­ber that middle school­er with an idea to change the font the gov­ern­ment uses as a way to save tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars?

Well, it turns out, it won’t, as The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Dav­id A. Fahrenthold found after talk­ing with the Gov­ern­ment Print­ing Of­fice. But that was after staffers for Rep. Scott Peters, D-Cal­if., looked in­to the idea for a pos­sible bill.

Here’s the back­story for those of you who don’t know about this cost-sav­ing scheme: Pitt­s­burgh middle-school wun­der­kind Suvir Mirchandani made na­tion­al news over the week­end, when he found while do­ing a sci­ence pro­ject that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment could save up­ward of $136 mil­lion if it switched its font from Times New Ro­man to Gara­mond. The reas­on­ing? The lat­ter font uses less ink, and ink is mighty ex­pens­ive.

Har­vard’s stu­dent-run Journ­al of Emer­ging In­vest­ig­at­ors pub­lished his find­ings, with a JEI founder telling CNN how “im­pressed” they were with Mirchandani’s work.

Seemed like a fant­ast­ic idea, right? Peters’s staffers thought so, too.

“We leapt at the idea to save lots of tax­pay­er money through what seems like a re­l­at­ively small change,” Peters said in an email.

So staffers checked with GPO about the pos­sible changes, and it turns out the ini­tial premise didn’t ex­actly pan out. Ap­par­ently Mirchandani’s es­tim­ated price of ink was too high, be­cause the gov­ern­ment is able to buy ink at a lower price than the av­er­age con­sumer, giv­en it uses much more of it. Ad­di­tion­ally, GPO print­ing is done with print­ing presses, and not laser or inkjet print­ers. 

Mirchandani can be for­giv­en for such over­sights. He told CNN that he had tried to get in touch with GPO about how much they ac­tu­ally spend on print­ing, but didn’t hear back un­til he had fin­ished his pro­ject.

Des­pite the font-change idea not work­ing out, Peters doesn’t want to dis­suade the na­tion’s teen­agers from pitch­ing him more ideas. “That shouldn’t dis­cour­age Amer­ic­ans of any age from let­ting elec­ted of­fi­cials know where there could be sav­ings,” he said. “Gov­ern­ment needs to en­cour­age in­nov­at­ive solu­tions from its con­stitu­en­cies, not dis­cour­age it.”

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