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Government Inaction: Inks and Fonts Edition

Printer ink is expensive. More expensive, in fact, than Chanel No. 5 perfume, and while I’m not an expert on perfume, I understand that’s quite a price for some nice-smelling liquid. You know who uses a lot of printer ink? Our government. So it stands to reason that, if we can find ways to reduce the amount they spend on printer ink, we should look into it, right? That’s exactly what Suvir Mirchandani, at the time an especially smart sixth grader at a Pittsburgh elementary school, did. Now fourteen years old, his story comes to light on CNN:

And was the government interested? Of course not.

Using the General Services Administration’s estimated annual cost of ink — $467 million — Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30% — or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.
Gary Somerset, media and public relations manager at the Government Printing Office, describes Suvir’s work as “remarkable.” But he was noncommittal on whether the GPO would introduce changes to typeface, saying the GPO’s efforts to become more environmentally sustainable were focused on shifting content to the Web.
“In 1994, we were producing 20,000 copies a day of both the Federal Register and Congressional Record. Twenty years later, we produce roughly 2,500 print copies a day,” he said.
On top of this, the Congressional Register is printed on recycled paper, which GPO has been doing for five or six years, Somerset says.

None of this should surprise any of us. As Reason notes, Mirchandani is learning early that the government isn’t terribly interested in fixing things or becoming more efficient:

Sounds like Mirchandani may end up learning two lessons: With a little thought, a smart person can find simple ways for the government to save money—and the government doesn’t seem terribly interested in pursuing them.

Before I finish, it’s fair to note that Suvir’s idea would face to practical issues in implementation. First, there’s a good chance that, if they used a lighter font, government employees would likely end up using larger point sizes, thus using a similar if not greater amount of ink and more paper. Second, documents intended for senior citizens and those with bad eyesight would probably have a harder time reading lighter fonts. Third, it should noted that a $467 million per year cut is only a rounding error in our nearly $4 trillion budget.

Still, if I were President, I’d be channeling Calvin Coolidge and be the kind of guy to fuss about the number of pencils government employees were using. Economy in government is one of the great, if often neglected, virtues of the statesman, and I’d take it wherever I could find it, no matter how small.

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