Zachary Derr is an attorney working at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. In his spare time he enjoys great food, skiing and rubbing shoulders with low-lifes on the disc golf course.
Speculating on ways to save taxpayer money and curb the national debt has become a bit of a national pastime. The right wants to cut “entitlement spending” and the left has their sights set on defense and tax loopholes. Everyone agrees that we should do something. We’re stuck with lots of rhetoric, line drawing and politicians who largely maintain the status quo.
State and local governments are also slashing budgets and cutting back essential public services to save money. I would like to propose an idea that is not original and won’t solve the national debt. It’s simple, has been tried and tested and may even help our obesity epidemic. The idea: turn up the thermostats in government buildings in the summer. That’s it.
During law school I worked as an intern at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. My cubicle was underneath an air conditioning vent and I found many excuses to walk around and get warm. I eventually did what others in the office did: brought a sweater. Wearing a sweater indoors in August in Washington, D.C. struck me as totally absurd. I would leave my arctic cave at the office and enter the sweltering D.C. summer heat, dripping in sweat after my bike ride home. Other folks in the office had space heaters to keep warm. Space heaters are expensive; air conditioning is expensive. Who foots the bill? We do! Would you leave all the windows in your house open in the winter and turn on a space heater? In fact, sales of space heaters across America rise during the summer, to keep chilled office workers warm under the oppressive flood of artificially cold air.
Could we as Americans sacrifice our beloved suit coats and ties for the bottom line? Japan is a conservative society where businessmen have been rumored to mow the lawn in dark suits. Japan has turned the thermostats in office buildings up to around 82 degrees in the summer and convinced the businessmen to trade in their dark suits for short-sleeved shirts. If Japan can do it, we can too. As an employee of the State of Utah, I would gladly ditch my tie and change to a short-sleeved shirt in the summer. I think the public would forgive government buildings being a little warm and having a more relaxed appearance, knowing that they were saving money.
In fact, seeing the President and Congress dawning short-sleeved shirts during the summer would show the American people that our elected officials are willing and able to do the very thing we want: make sacrifices to pull together for the benefit of the nation.
If the federal government and state and local governments turned up the thermostats in government buildings to around 82 degrees during June, July, August and September and allowed employees to dress down a bit during those months, the government would save millions, if not billions of dollars on electric bills.