The toast of Washington this week? A 14-year-old from Pittsburgh. Suvir Mirchandani calculated that with a simple change of fonts, the federal government could save as much as $136 million per year. Following up on a middle-school science project, Mirchandani calculated that changing government documents from Times New Roman to Garamond—a narrower, lighter font—would slash the amount of ink required by a vast amount. And as he pointed out, laser-printer ink is far dearer than, say Chanel No. 5. Savings at the federal level could be as high as $136 million, he calculated. Extrapolating his findings to state and local governments, Mirchandani found that the total savings for all governments in the U.S. could be as much as $394 million, an astounding figure even by Washington standards (though still barely 1 percent of federal expenditures in 2013).
Mirchandani published his findings in a student-run outlet at Harvard, the Journal of Emerging Investigators—admittedly, prospects for peer review are tough, given that most 14-year-olds aren't doing this kind of analysis—and the study was picked up by CNN, which interviewed him. The graphic they used to illustrate the story pretty much says it all:
And here's a chart of how much less space Garamond takes up than other options:
The basic principle here is pretty simple ... perhaps a bit too simple. But before we get to the possible flaws in Mirchandani's case, let's step back for a minute. As Eric Schnurer has written at The Atlantic, politicians and citizens alike often insist that the trick to saving money and making the government work better is to slay the hated three-headed beast of "waste, fraud, and abuse." But the problem is there really isn't all that much waste, fraud, or abuse in the system. Even if it were possible to slash the amount to zero—a standard that would necessarily be subjective, and is unattainable even in the best-run private-sector businesses—you'd still be talking about relatively small amounts of money. The trick, instead, is to find cross-system economies of scale that can save cash. It's won't eliminate a projected $514 billion deficit, but it's definitely money saved.