Politics & Government

Report: Government efficiencies saved $5.92 million, biggest gain in avoided costs

Washington state agencies have trimmed $5.92 million in spending and avoided another $27.4 million in future costs by letting workers find efficiencies in the workplace, according to a new agency report on the use of “Lean” management to streamline operations.

Among gains identified are faster tax assessments, shorter lines in licensing bureaus and much less paper shuffling.

“Across state government, employees are helping state agencies find efficiencies, save time and supplies, and manage growing workloads within existing resources,” says Wendy Korthuis-Smith, director of Results Washington, in a letter sent this week to top budget writers in the Legislature. “These efforts are real and growing, as employees adopt principles and tools that help streamline their work and improve services for the public.’’

Gov. Jay Inslee campaigned in 2012 on expanding Lean above efforts by his Democratic predecessor, Chris Gregoire. He’d claimed he could boost K-12 school funding without raising taxes by eliminating wasteful tax breaks, growing the economy and using Lean to lower costs.

But the first-term Democrat introduced a budget this month that calls for more than $1.4 billion in new revenues including a capital-gains tax. Although his spending plans books modest savings from Lean, it saves $200 million principally through smaller, traditional budget cuts.

Inslee and members of his Results Washington agency, say a great value of Lean is in improving performance, reducing waiting times, and avoiding costs. But they don’t see it primarily as a budget or staff-cutting tool.

Because many lawmakers handling budget issues next year were away during the holidays, there has been little reaction from the Legislature.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, the Republican from Granger who is ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he thinks the public wants to see savings from this kind of effort.

“I haven’t had a chance to delve into it,” Chandler said of the report, which was produced in response to a legislative request in the 2014 supplemental budget. “I do think the public’s expectation ... when they hear about Lean management, they expect it to save money. Doing the job better and saving money.”

“I would hope we are all looking for that,” Chandler said.

Results Washington spokesman Rich Roesler said the report shows Lean — an efficiency movement begun by Toyota in the late 1980s to eliminate errors and wasteful steps in manufacturing — is generating good results for taxpayers. The report highlights 18 examples from 15 agencies that it says have already saved $5.92 million in costs and generated $3.16 million in new revenue. That compares to the $1.8 million cost for Results Washington.

It also notes there have been 600 Lean projects since 2012. Inslee established Results Washington by executive order in September 2013.

Examples of success cited in the report:

•  More than 1 million hours of time spent waiting at Department of Licensing lobbies was eliminated compared to 2012. This was done by increasing online and traditional mail to process licenses, tying staffing to data on traffic patterns at offices, and partnering with private driver-training schools.

• Chopping the time needed to fulfill public-disclosure requests at the Department of Transportation from 24 days to 10. “These changes eliminated the need to add four additional positions, at a total of $274,000 a year,” the report says.

• DOT avoided hiring four other staffers at a cost of $287,000 by streamlining the way crash report data were handled; this more than doubled the number of reports processed each day to 541 and ended an 8.5-month backlog, the report says.

• The Department of Labor and Industries saved 641 hours of staff time each month by ending the practice of printing and distributing 5,000 pages of monthly phone records so that managers and supervisors could review them. A $32,000 investment and creation of an electronic system freed 7,368 hours of staff time, worth an estimated $303,672 yearly, to put to such uses as customer service.

• The Department of Social and Health Services and the Employment Security Department improved the low rate of client participation in the WorkFirst program for welfare recipients, enough the state expects to avoid $20.8 million in federal penalties, the report says.

• The Department of Revenue shortened its process for assessing unpaid taxes by 45 days, a change that is producing $744,000 in interest for the state. It also lets Revenue re-direct about 1.5 full time positions to activities that generate revenue valued at about $750,000.

• Consolidated Technology Services, which operates the state’s data centers, moved the state off a 30-year-old SCAN system to a cheaper system. The switch, completed in July, saves the state $2 million in long-distance calling costs compared to fiscal year 2012, the report said.

The report recommends letting agencies keep at least a portion of their financial savings and to redirect saved staff time into other agency tasks.

“Allowing managers to redirect that saved staff time to other tasks helps agencies face increasing workloads with existing resources, helping avoid costs,” the report says.