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State of the Union, State of the States, State of Our Local Government

03/03/2010

Thoughts on the Challenge of Making Government More Efficient and Effective

Guest post by Robert Wible, Principal, Robert Wible & Associates and Project Director, Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age at FIATECH

January and February of each year sees our president, governors, mayors, and county executives appearing on network or cable television to offer their annual addresses on the state of the union, state of the state, and state of the city or county.

Bob Benstead’s blog post last month got me thinking about the latest crop of above addresses and the critical role that technology (IT) plays in how public servants and government can address the economic, environmental, and safety crisis that faces our nation and meet our pressing need for effective and efficient government. This crisis embraces not only Bob’s list of global warming and energy conservation issues, but also what Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick said about increasing government efficiency in his State of the Commonwealth address on January 21, “I will not be satisfied until we have reshaped and reinvented government itself, consolidating more agencies and wringing out of them every inefficiency.”

Creating jobs, getting the economy back on track, and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government were universal themes in all of the addresses that I’ve either read or heard, from the White House all the way down to my county government. President Obama called for our nation to create jobs and for putting “Americans to work today building the infrastructure of the future.” In California, Governor Schwarzenegger called for continued government streamlining and “not pouring sand” into the gears of government as being critical elements to enabling California to “persevere and prosper.”

In
Michigan, Governor Granholm in her February 3 address noted that, “We have to reform government to make it work better and cost less so that we can focus on our priorities: jobs and education.”  New York Governor Patterson in his address, “A  Time to Rebuild,” called for “merging agencies that replicate services” and “bring spending in line with expected revenues” as a way to help “reignite the engine of our economy.”

Idaho Governor Otter
, on January 11, called for his state to assure the public that “what government does it must do well—efficiently and effectively,” and to do so government must “avoid duplication of effort or any waste of tax payers’ hard-earned dollars.” While noting that the economy is beginning to turn around in Alabama, Governor Riley stressed in his annual address that his administration will “also continue to make government more efficient. This recession has been an opportunity for our government to innovate, to streamline, and to think of ways to spend government money more wisely.”

Across the nation, mayors from New York City to San Diego called for similar government efficiencies and support for economic recovery. Even the mayor of Oklahoma City, OK, Mick Cornett, speaking about the state of his city, which Forbes magazine has called “the most recession-proof city” in the nation, stressed continued support for government efficiency initiatives.

As those of you in the trenches of federal, state, and local government know only too well, however, “streamlining” and “right-sizing” to wring out “every inefficiency” to increase government effectiveness and efficiency is a difficult balancing act at best. A meat cleaver approach to government structures and staffing is a lot like eating all of your seed corn or siphoning all of the gas out of your gas tank. Blind cuts mean you get to the point where you can no longer support (feed) basic public services, or when your elected officials demand that you step on the accelerator to speed a construction project through your regulatory system for which you don’t have the staff (or technologies) to conduct adequate plan reviews and site inspections.

In the midst of the rush to reduce government cost and inefficiency, elected officials need to be mindful of what Governor Granholm earlier this month cautioned Michigan’s legislators about, the need to “not be pennywise and pound foolish” and to be prepared to spend funds where return on investments show that tax payer funds will lead to greater efficiencies and savings within a reasonable time frame.

In our Alliance Return on Investment studies conducted a few years ago, we uniformly documented that state and local governments putting IT in place in their permitting, plan review, and inspection processes saved the jurisdiction (let alone their citizens) enough funds within 9 to 12 months to pay for the acquisition and implementation of that technology. With most government agency staffs already cut to bare-bones levels, that ROI now is even greater since some of these technologies will enable the jurisdiction to reduce the number of employees they will have to rehire as the economy turns around.


Moreover, in documented case studies gathered by the Alliance over the past 9 years, jurisdictions that have streamlined their administrative and regulatory processes and put IT in place have enhanced compliance while at the same time reduced the amount of time it takes to move a building permit through their regulatory system by between 50% and 70%. In a struggling state or local economy, that means getting stores, offices, hotels, etc., open to hire people more quickly and speed the generation of tax revenues—from basic sales and property taxes to hotel room taxes.

President Obama on January 27 and Governor Schwarzenegger on January 6 both made remarks that underscore the need for government to look again at acquiring and using IT to improve government effectiveness and efficiency. If you’re going to build the president’s “infrastructure for the future” and the governor’s vision of California with the “right economic mix going forward—high-tech, green-tech, bio-tech, Hollywood-tech, farmer-tech,“ why do you try and do so with governmental administrative processes that are “no-tech?" We don’t have enough “taxpayer dollars” to continue to do things the same way we’ve done them within government since the mid-1900s.
As we begin 2010, these are thoughts you might want to pass along not only to your elected officials, but to your citizens as well.


Share your ideas and opinions with me about ways our governments can become more efficient and streamlined.

Leave a comment or send me an email: Robert Wible.

Learn more about the Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age at FIATECH.

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