In the first five months of this year Washington State government agencies completed more than 100 efficiency-improving initiatives to tighten operations and improve return on investment for taxpayers, according to a report delivered to the legislature this month by the Office of Financial Management and Governor Jay Inslee’s cross-agency performance management initiative Results Washington.

The report catalogs 115 so-called “Lean” improvement efforts completed across 33 different state agencies through May of 2014. “Lean” is a term used in business and government to denote a system of approaches to achieve such efficiencies. These include engaging customers to determine their true wants, and value-stream mapping to eliminate waste.

Liquor Control Board rises to challenge created by I-502

Some cases detailed in the report make especially clear how state government may have to adapt nimbly to changed circumstances in order to maintain efficient operations and public service.

As the state begins full implementation this year of voter-approved Initiative 502 for legal recreational marijuana, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) received a huge increase in public records requests. Journalists and marijuana retail lottery participants were flooding the system. “The number of requests we got [in the first half of 2014] doubled,” said WSLCB Deputy Director Randy Simmons. And yet even while the workload doubled, the internal processes were improved so rapidly that response times were halved.

WSLCB used process-mapping to achieve the efficiency gains. The agency mapped the public information request process out from start to finish and identified areas for improvement. The agency decided to post all retail lottery information on the public records section of the website, eliminating entirely the need for people to file formal requests on that topic.

Simmons said that the agency’s Lean training started under Governor Chris Gregoire. “If you look at what Results Washington is doing,” Simmons said, the initiative is focusing “the state as one big organization on processes and performance metrics that are commonly shared” across agencies. The WSLCB’s work improving the public record request process serves as a prime example of this effort, as “every agency has to deal with public records requests.”

Making social and health Services more efficient at the state’s largest agency 

At the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the Human Resources division achieved impressive efficiency improvements by conducting value-stream mapping exercises. By streamlining its paperwork processes, the agency eliminated the annual need for 96,000 signatures and database entries, $60,000 in paper costs, and about 25,600 staff hours. According to DSHS spokesman Mindy Chambers, the Lean approach isn’t about eliminating tasks or staff, but rather about delivering maximum value to Washington residents. “Those are resources that can be used in other places for other work,” Chambers said.

Prior and ongoing DSHS Lean projects include:
  • Prioritizing quicker but still thorough Child Protective Services investigations led to a 57 percent reduction in the number left open for more than 90 days.
  • By improving the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work transition program engagement rates, DSHS saved $20.8 million in forgiven federal penalties the state had incurred in the year prior to the Inslee Administration.

Enterprise Services develops bigger, more diverse bidding pool for public works contracts 

The Department of Enterprise Services (DES) is Washington’s newest state agency and serves as a central service provider for other agencies, freeing those operations up to focus on their primary tasks. Crystal Hart, a Lean Consultant for DES described a recent Lean improvement project contained in the report. Governor Inslee set a goal for increasing inclusion of minority- woman-, and veteran-owned small businesses in public works contracts. To address this goal, Hart and DES worked to standardize the outreach process for engineering and architectural services. “Standardization reduces variation, which increases consistency and decreases costs,” Hart said.

Other Lean projects recently completed by DES include:

  • By moving production of certain packaging material in-house, the agency expects to save $80,000 per year.
  • Replacing existing lighting on the Capitol Campus with new energy-efficient, white-light LED fixtures and installing occupancy sensors is expected to reduce energy consumption by 1.8 million kilowatt-hours per year.

Getting results 

Results Washington also recently launched its new data site where residents can explore data from state agencies in the context of performance goals Governor Inslee has set for the coming years. “We’re still improving on it,” Roesler said of the evolving site. With an enormous quantity of data to organize, the challenge became creating a site the average resident could easily navigate. Roesler said the Governor’s Office stressed accessibility and “plain talk” – starting visitors off with “a very simple dashboard” and then allowing them the opportunity to “drill down” into the area where they seek more detail.

Other notable Lean improvements  from the report include:
    • Department of Labor and Industries – Cut the average time for processing employer requests for reconsideration of L&I audit findings from 441 days to 67, saving employers an estimated $1.7 million in interest costs.
    • Department of Revenue – Reduced by 64 percent the average number of days an information services help desk ticket is open.
    • Department of Health – Cut the time for handling complaints about the Women, Infants, and Children program from an average of four weeks to one.
    • Department of Transportation – WSDOT headquarters has cut the time it takes to fulfill public disclosure requests by 55 percent, from an average of 24 days to 11.
    • Department of Transportation – The Ferries Division now requires only three signatures per item for most contracts and purchase orders instead of six or seven.
    • Department of Licensing – Cut by more than half the time required for DoL Mail Center to receive and forward firearms transfer applications from licensed firearm dealers to program staff for processing.
    • Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds – Improved an inefficient, paper-based complaint process by adding the option of a faster, easy-to-complete online version.
    • Community Colleges of Spokane – Reduced by two-thirds the number of steps a student takes from admission to sitting in class.
    • Consolidated Technology Services – Automated a monthly report about service desk workload, so a manual process that used to take 24-30 hours of staff time every month now takes minutes. The saved staff time is now used on other work, including direct customer service.
    • Washington State Patrol and the Department of Enterprise Services – Overhaul an archaic paper application system for trooper candidates. The Patrol has also used Lean to dramatically speed up background checks and time needed for mechanics to outfit patrol cars.

OFM and Results Washington told the legislature to expect the next report February 1, 2015.


Make Government More EffectivePLAN Washington Governance Goal #1