Keys to Making Government Work That Are Hidden in Plain Sight

Maryland State House, Annapolis

Maryland State House, Annapolis Flickr user Doug Kerr

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A management theorist’s latest smorgasbord of lessons from the states.

Too bad Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned under an ethical cloud this month. He’s featured among results-oriented reformers in the new book Government That Works, by business consultant John Bernard.

A three-decade devotee of management theorist W. Edwards Deming, the author—who will be promoting his latest at this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting in Washington—argues that “modern American government has evolved into the most complex societal enterprise in the history of humankind. In the process, it has lost sight of the simple principles that inspired the nation’s founders.”

The solutions, as others have prophesied, are in plain sight out in state capitals. Bernard’s compendium of success tales in the “results revolution” offers somewhat familiar case studies but fresh interviews with Cabinet-level reformers in a scrupulously bipartisan selection of states: New Mexico for its streamlined motor vehicles department; New York City for cleaning up subway crime; Colorado’s reductions in unwanted teen pregnancies.

What do the leaders of these efforts have in common? “They relentlessly focused on reducing waste, improving customer experience and satisfaction, efficiency and results,” Bernard writes. How? “Engaging employees in improving the processes completely changes the game.”

Before 2013, for example, New Mexico drivers arrived at the DMV to find that “customer lines ran out the door and around the block, people sat in lines in lawn chairs starting at 7:00 in the morning to avoid waiting – an average of 96 minutes, just to get to see someone to get the help they needed,” the book recounts.

Now, counters open an hour earlier, a greeter at the door does quick troubleshoots, and customers are asked to fill out a satisfaction survey. The wait time is down to three minutes, Bernard says.

Bernard identifies “Seven Deadly Sins of Waste” of which public servants are often guilty:

  • Waiting: Re-handling and re-starting work while waiting for things needed to complete it.
  • Inspecting: Checking work to try to catch errors.
  • Reentering: Putting information in one place that already exists in another.
  • Searching: Trying to find data, materials, reports or whatever else is missing.
  • Moving: Routing things or shifting people from one place to another.
  • Reworking: Doing work over again because it was incomplete or incorrect.
  • Overprocessing: Doing work that serves no identifiable customer or purpose.

The ideological grab bag of governors Bernard credits with being on board with his results-based revolution are Jay Inslee, D-Wash.; Martin O’Malley, D-Md.; Peter Shumlin, D-Vt.; Lincoln Chafee, D-R.I.;  Mary Fallin, R-Okla., Sean Parnell, R-Alaska; Susana Martinez, R-N.M.; Nathan Deal, R-Ga., Gary Herbert, R-Utah; Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., and Rick Snyder, R-Mich.

Kitzhaber’s also on the list, mostly for having hired Michael Jordan to be Oregon’s first chief operating officer, “to manage the business side of policy implementation in areas such as health care and education.” The results there may end up being graded “incomplete.”

Photo: Flicker user Doug Kerr