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Task Force working groups move from information to planning

Group is completing data gathering, begins work on proposals

MIT's Institute-wide Planning Task Force, created to find ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies in the Institute's operations over the next three years, is completing the first phase of its work -- gathering data and suggestions from the Institute's students, faculty and staff. The group is now beginning the process of evaluating ideas, prioritizing opportunities and working toward providing a preliminary report of recommendations by June.

The Task Force, coordinated by Vice Chancellor & Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman, Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt, and Vice President for Finance Israel Ruiz, was set up in response to the decline in revenues as a result of the global economic crisis and was charged with exploring ways to maximize efficiency and effectiveness to help reduce MIT's expenses by $50 million to $100 million beginning in the 2011 fiscal year. These cuts would be in addition to the $50 million in expense reductions already planned for FY 2010.

Ruiz emphasizes that while the need to reduce costs provided the initial impetus for the Task Force's work, this process represents a chance "to make MIT even a better place, a more efficient place" by finding improved and more sustainable ways of fulfilling the Institute's core missions of teaching and research. "This is an incredible opportunity for all of us," he says.

Toward that end, in addition to meeting with various members of the MIT community and outside experts, the group set up an online "Idea Bank" where MIT community members could offer suggestions for savings, and could do so anonymously if they wished. More than 760 suggestions have been collected so far, and weekly reports on the suggestions have been forwarded to the Task Force members.

That process "has generated a lot of leads for the working groups to validate or take on," Ruiz says. A few basic themes have emerged, such as automation and simplification of various administrative systems and a reduction of printed materials, he says.

The Idea Bank will continue to take new suggestions, although as the Task Force working groups transition to planning and drafting of proposals its members will no longer receive automatic weekly reports, so they are encouraging people to contribute ideas within the next week if possible.

By mid-April, the group aims to have a summary of the Idea Bank suggestions to date, including charts showing the relative amounts of support for different suggestions. The Task Force's preliminary report to the administration is due in June, and its final report in October.

In addition to the Idea Bank web site itself, the Task Force maintains a web site that will be regularly updated with summaries of the work of its seven working groups, which are examining specific areas of MIT operations for potential savings. The groups are based on the topics of Space, Education, Research, Student Life, Revenue Enhancement, Human Resources and Benefits, Administrative Processes, Procurement and Information Technology.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 1, 2009 (download PDF).

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