The Commission for a New Georgia

State of Georgia

Background

The Commission for A New Georgia (CNG) was chartered to engage the state’s robust business sector in a public/private partnership to make Georgia the “best-managed state in America.”

Set up as a non-profit corporation, privately funded and free of politics, the Commission amassed an amazing brain-trust from businesses, professions, and academia. This was the New Georgia’s “idea factory,” generating innovative thinking about how government can work better.

Nothing was random in the Commission’s organization and operation. The design and development took deliberate steps from the beginning to create a business model for the organization, bringing the right people to the table and running a disciplined, sustainable project management system. Nearly 400 citizens from across the state invested their time and expertise in an ongoing mission to improve their government. It worked productively for seven years and compiled an unprecedented record of results.

This is how it was done.

Problem

From the start of the Perdue Administration in 2003, Georgia has focused on managing to improve efficiency, accountability and value across government and provide citizens better service at less cost.

The overarching challenge is to develop a systematic, sensible process to isolate and analyze internal government functions which should be operated on an enterprise level to work more efficiently, effectively and economically.

The solution must encompass transformative management tools, best business practices and smart technologies, as well as an aggressive implementation strategy. The change process must to be flexible enough to negotiate the landscape of historically-entrenched agency silos and replace redundant operations with an enterprise-level solution that has clear authority and measureable accountability.

Solution

Georgia’s strategy is to address specific issues in a public-private “task force” forum, which engages industry experts, pro bono consultants, agency leaders and strong executive and legislative involvement in formulating a comprehensive enterprise-level plan with specific recommendations for improvement. The Task Forces operate under the auspices of the Commission for A New Georgia, a public/private council comprising approximately 25 of the state’s top CEOs and senior business leaders. Commission initiatives are spearheaded in government by the Governor’s Office of Implementation, working closely with agency heads and teams. This is an ongoing process, which continually identifies new issues and deploys new short-term task forces which report findings and recommendations in 60 to 90 days. A clear and underlying principle of the entire process has been the commitment of the Governor and his staff to see that every feasible recommendation is implemented.

To date, 24 task forces have produced 130 total recommendations. Within those totals, all 24 of the task force reports containing 130 recommendations have completed implementation, and 113 recommendations (86%) have been instituted to date – saving millions of dollars and reshaping the business of state government. Two distinct types of state agencies have emerged in the transformation. “Outwardly-faced” agencies have specific missions to deliver hundreds of state services to citizens. “Inwardly-faced” agencies operate at the enterprise level to administer internal government services used by all agencies – for example, human resources, fleet management, risk management, procurement, finance, information technology, customer service, facilities and energy.

Georgia’s experience is demonstrating that these services can be organized and managed most efficiently and effectively as a consolidated function at the enterprise level. This provides a consistent platform for leadership, accountability, process, support, service delivery and is fundamentally necessary to improve efficiency and prepare state government for the 21st century economy. Although the transformation process has been an ongoing part of Georgia government since 2003, resistance invariably arises when special interests feel threatened by change. The highest-risk venture within the three projects submitted would be in the Retirement piece of the first proposal, which includes restructuring the state’s multiple health benefits systems to reduce escalating costs and projected liabilities. This project will confront issues of turf, cost, and the people-involved.

The strategy to mitigate risk is straightforward: show the data for each scenario, bring the leadership to bear on the solution, and proceed with implementation steps directed by the Governor. The task force/implementation process is designed to ensure that projects are sustained beyond the initiative year and embedded in government operation. As a project moves through the implementation phase, a key transitional element is the formal hand-off from the broad-based implementation team to the designated agency responsible for the functional area and the success of the project. Performance evaluations ensure visibility of project outcomes on a continuing basis.

Costs

To insure independence, the Commission established itself as a corporation – privately-funded and free of office politics. True to its name, the “New Georgia” group broke from old patterns of past councils. CNG designed a nimble, multi-pronged and ongoing plan of work to keep change churning and spur rapid process improvement. They believed it was critical to produce results at the speed of business, not in “government years.” They went paperless, posting their reports and recommendations on a public website: www.newgeorgia.org.

CNG ran a rolling agenda of tasks targeted to key government operations. The task forces were lean, expert, and focused. They performed the forensics on current operations and recommended specific improvements, ranging from updating practices and technologies to total modernization of business systems. When the work of each task force was done, in about 100 days, members closed their briefcases and went back to their own businesses.

Fixing individual problems is only half the job. If the system is broken, it will be a continuing source of poorly executed operations, which ripple through the quality of state services. We handed the Commission the keys to the silo system, to see what was broken.

Positive Outcomes

To date, CNG initiatives have been credited for cost efficiencies and revenue returns totaling over $200 million – not counting collections of overdue accounts. Examples: the fleet of state vehicles was downsized by almost 10 percent; aviation services were consolidated from five agency-operated fleets to a single authority that covers all missions with fewer planes and pilots. The state has recovered more than $200 million in seriously delinquent taxes and uncollected revenues from federal allocations. In state health programs, tougher verification of eligibility and other program changes have reduced spending from double-digit annual percentage growth to well below 10 percent – saving more than $650 million in state and federal dollars over three years and a projected $254 million in state funds alone in FY11.

Applicability to Massachusetts/Conclusion

This public/private partnership transformed the mechanics, the mindset and the management of government. Applying business-like perspectives, principles, and practices in the arena of government management helped save millions of dollars in the cost of government goods and services through strategic purchasing, shortened the time waiting in line at license bureaus from hours to minutes, and managed to give maximum value for the tax dollar.

States such as Massachusetts could benefit from a commission like the CNG. Putting the expertise of businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and technological innovators to good use would help streamline services and eliminate unnecessary waste. Experiences such as the one in Georgia need not be limited to one state.

Contact the Author:
Jeff Strane
Director of Implementation
State of Georgia
113 -State Capital
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone: 404-656-3117
Email: jstrane@gov.state.ga.us
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