05/31/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fixing Washington: another small changes saves money, does stuff better

Well, the folks at the White House really do figure we should get what we pay for, which includes a lot of small efforts to save money.

Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs decided to let vets take home from the hospital the medicines they already had. Small change, really worth it.

Now, the White House humans have worked one more small change:

DHS announced that it is changing the default setting for its payroll statements from paper to electronic. This means employees will receive their regular payroll data electronically instead of getting stacks of paper earnings statements by mail.  By making e-statements the default option, while giving employees the option to opt out in favor of the paper statement, we hope to increase the percentage of federal employees who use this approach while saving the taxpayers' money.

The basic costs of printing, shipping, and distributing these pages adds up quickly. Employees currently have the ability to opt in to receive electronic paystubs, but only 64 percent take advantage of this option.

That fact -- along with the savings lost with the paper printing -- prompted OMB to work with NFC to change the default setting to the e-statement so that, if an employee wants a paper statement mailed to them, they would have to affirmatively choose it. As seen in other areas such as enrolling in a retirement plan, changing the defaults can be a powerful incentive to changing behavior. When implemented at NFC, this approach will save approximately $4 million dollars.

Fairly small money savings, sure, but the big deal is a big culture change, about doing everything better, and giving taxpayers what we pay for.

... and I'm still a bigger nerd than Orszag.