Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

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The Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring is now engaged in sponsoring town hall meetings around the state and smaller work group meetings have taken center stage.

The Government Simplification and Operations work group is pursuing several avenues that may lead to greater efficiency in state agencies.

At this week’s meeting, the work group heard a number of interesting case studies.

The company Accenture (“High performance. Delivered.”) made the first presentation. One major point was that government’s need to concentrate on making sure that taxes and payments owed are actually received. Typically compliance falls during poor economic times so new approaches may be in order. Accenture, working for the state of Maryland, says it has increased state collections there by $55 million in less than two years by using data mining and matching, identifying employer non-compliance with withholding, and comparing external data sources against state tax data.

Another approach the company advocates is based on rapid cost reduction; the savings can be used to make phase 2 changes that in turn finance more permanent structural changes. They have also found success with the shared services concept in which an independent organization performs back office functions for multiple state agencies.

Some examples came from Virginia. As we know, VDOT has downsized drastically over the last couple of years. In the past citizen calls were handled by each of the local offices. But when positions and even offices were eliminated, a new method had to be established. In Northern Virginia, calls were already handled successfully by a call center so that approach was adopted for the rest of the state. Thus the position reductions were managed while maintaining customer service, providing consistent answers, and dedicating resources to resolve citizen inquiries and concerns.

Some changes in Virginia began years ago. In 2003 during the Warner administration the government contracted with CB Richard Ellis to review the state’s land and facilities. To understand the magnitude of the issue, you need to know that Virginia has over 360,000 acres of land in over 1000 locations, 13,000 owned buildings with 117 million square feet of space, and 7 million square feet of leased office space.  Soon the state contracted with CBRE for portfolio management services. According to the firm, their management of 322 transactions in the last 7 years have resulted in cost savings of $32 million and cost avoidance of $23 million. Clearly this kind of work should continue. We can’t spend money on buildings unnecessarily when services are so badly needed.

One improvement, already underway from the Kaine administration, is to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned buildings. Generally there is a pretty quick payback for investments in insulation, new windows, better HVAC systems, CFLs or LED lights, and so on.

It is hard to say what additional savings can be found. Virginia is a well-managed state and pretty frugal in its approach, but it seems likely that the Governor can institute some efficiencies and new approaches to make a good government even better.

 


Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]