Nameless and faceless, civil servants too often are blamed for all that's wrong with government, being cast as lazy, incompetent spendthrifts abusing the public exchequer. But as Florida TaxWatch's latest list of Prudential-Davis Productivity Award winners demonstrates, it's those frequently vilified bureaucrats who play a significant role in protecting public dollars.
The nonprofit TaxWatch started the productivity awards in 1989, 10 years after it began watchdogging Tallahassee, perhaps in recognition it couldn't do the job alone. The awards, named after the insurance giant and the founding family behind the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain, honor individual public employees and state agencies for taking the initiative to cut costs and create efficiencies throughout state government.
This year 571 people and agencies were cited for their financial diligence — including one Department of Business and Professional Regulation employee on vacation who noticed his cruise ship wasn't collecting taxes on cigarettes sold onboard when anchored in Florida. His diligence alone is expected to net $300,000 to $1 million more in sales tax revenue annually.
In the Tampa Bay area, too, the list of award recipients is notable. At the Land O'Lakes Florida Highway Patrol station, employees relocated themselves to a new office instead of using a moving company at a savings of $6,000. The Hillsborough County Public Defender's Office saved $50,000 by developing an intervention and advocacy initiative. The Tampa office of the Department of Children and Families saved $100,000 by streamlining a data workbook to assess performance. And another Tampa DCF effort to identify food stamp fraud resulted in savings of $760,000.
Altogether, Florida TaxWatch estimates this year's award recipients were responsible for $473 million in cost savings, cost avoidances and increased revenue to the public coffers — undermining the myth that only the private sector has ideas for improving government efficiency. The lesson all too easily overlooked by state politicians and the public: Florida's public employees also care about saving a dollar. And they are good at it, too.