Little Known State Program Has Resulted In A Half-Million In Savings Over 19 Years


Sometimes we conservatives tend to dwell on the bad things in government as opposed to the good things. And why wouldn’t we? After all, there are a lot of bad things in government. We also tend to cast government bureaucrats as being wasteful and indifferent, but that’s not really fair.

Today I wanted to write about a post which proves that many state employees really do care about the jobs they do, and try to be better stewards of our tax dollars.

A reader emailed me recently asking about North Dakota’s State Employee Suggestion Incentive Program and whether or not it could be a model for policy in other states that could result in significant savings of taxpayer dollars.

The ESIP allows state employees to make suggestions for saving costs and improving efficiency, and pays them a bonus (20% of savings up to a total of $2,000) if their suggestions are implemented.

I was aware of the program, but wasn’t sure how often it was actually used. Yesterday I put in an open records request for the data and today received a report detailing all of the cost savings, and bonus paid, in the program dating back to its inception in 1994.

The result, over that almost 19-year tenure, is $539,848.88 in savings with $36,189.70 in bonuses paid out to the state employees who came up with the ideas. That’s really not a lot spread out over nearly two decades, and as you can see from the chart, most of the savings came in two years – 1999, when suggestions for lower utility, mailing and advertising costs were implemented and 2001, when an employee suggested that the state stop covering prescription drug costs under Medicaid that are not covered under Medicare.

Most years don’t see a lot of suggestions or a lot of savings (see the full report below).

This is a good idea in concept. I wonder what, if anything, could be done to improve its implementation.

North Dakota Employee Suggestion Incentive History

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Mike Quinn

    Another win for Port. It seems like this could be implemented for any governmental agency. The key is to publish verifiable and identifiable results. This is the kind of article you should do more of. Instead of bashing government, come up with good suggestions. Now, have a cup of coffee and promise every day you will go in a positive direction once. After a couple weeks we will up it to two.

    • Rob

      I’ll do that if you’ll admit once in a while that bigger government isn’t always the solution to everything.

      • Mike Quinn

        You might be amazed how much I agree with you. I think most tax dollars would be better spent if they were kept on the local level. I can point out countless pointless projects that were done because of grant money. Right in our little town of Hazen we light up the highway all night at a very high cost because someone got a grant. It Cost the city about 1,500 per month that could be better spent.

        Big government got a foothold when southern states could not be trusted to use money fairly. Unfortunately because of racism the federal government had to step in. Honest fair government on the local level would be ideal. Food Stamps is a classic case. If a decent mayor could hand out the food stamps and force the real moochers to work it would be ideal. However, it would more than likely turn crooked in a hurry when it turned into a patronage system. Administrative cost are what eat up money. We have lousy health care because insurance companies eat up all the money with administrative cost. On the federal government side we lose money sending to the federal government and paying administrative cost to get it back. Small government is not all bad. Honest government is the real key.

        • Gern Blanston

          You’re on to something Quinn. But WHY do the insurance companies have such high administrative costs? And what about the actual cost of health care – the price tag on the products – why is that as high as it is? No one has seemed to want to address that issue. Instead we have created Obamacare which tries to transfer the job of the insurance companies without attacking the root causes of high heath care costs.

  • Dustin Gawrylow

    This program needs to be promoted, and even take the $2,000 cap off. We need public employees to be our watchdogs inside government, and they should be compensated appropriately.

    • Rob

      I tentatively agree.

      I wonder how easy the process is. As in, how long does it take for a recommendation to be approved or denied? How many are approved, how many are turned down?

      And does the cost of that process outweigh the savings?

      • Dustin Gawrylow

        That would need to be tracked as well. Your numbers are showing a savings of $1 for every 6 cents awarded. Some of these suggestions are in the “Duh!” category. Post-it notes for faxes instead of full sheets. The funniest is in 1996 regarding telegrams. Were they really still using telegrams in 1996?

        • Rob

          Id missed that one. What could they have possibly been using telegrams for?

          • Dustin Gawrylow

            I don’t know, but if law enforcement became the replacement, it likely was not the singing variety.

          • matthew_bosch

            Maybe the international brotherhood of telegram delivery boys lobbied for mandated government usage of telegrams. The telegram industry is too big to fail.

  • Tim Heise

    Great Post.

  • borborygmi

    “Sometimes we conservatives tend to dwell on the bad things in government as opposed to the good things. And why wouldn’t we? After all, there are a lot of bad things in government. We also tend to cast government bureaucrats as being wasteful and indifferent, but that’s not really fair.” I just looked out side and thought I saw pigs flying.

    • Rob

      Conservatives are only right about big, wasteful government most of the time.


      • Gern Blanston

        And I never seem to see thoughtful arguments FOR big government – just claims that if your against it you are against the poor and for the rich.

  • seejai

    I wish they had that for federal employees! I work in the summer and I’ve literally talked people out of flying from Nebraska to nd just to check out glitchy wifi