Oct 15, 2020 2:37 PM

Gov. Ricketts: Getting better all the time

Posted Oct 15, 2020 2:37 PM

It’s October in Nebraska, and change is literally in the air.  Yellow, orange, and red leaves are falling from trees to the grass, marking the turn of season.  It’s fitting, then, that October is the month we celebrate change in state government.  All month long, we’re spotlighting our Center of Operational Excellence and the positive changes it’s making to improve government services for Nebraskans.

In my first year as Governor, my team and I created the Center of Operational Excellence (COE) to lead change and drive operational excellence across state government.  The COE equips state teammates with process improvement skills.  These skills help state teammates identify waste, eliminate unnecessary steps, and deliver a better customer experience for taxpayers. 

By instilling these skills in our team, the COE has helped drive a culture of continuous improvement throughout state government.  As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”  The COE helps state teammates to look ahead and see how they can make things better.  We don’t want our agencies to get stuck in a rut, repeating the same steps because “this is how we’ve always done it.”  Instead, we want to empower our teams to find new and improved ways to serve Nebraskans.  To help lead this change, we’ve embedded process improvement coordinators within state agencies to give our teams this future-oriented perspective.

Process improvement coordinators are helping deliver a customer service experience taxpayers expect and deserve.  American businesses are the most innovative, customer-friendly enterprises on the planet.  Because of the speed and quality of private sector service, people increasingly expect the same level of excellence from their government.  Over the last several years, we’ve seen great success running state government more like a business.  Since May 2016, the COE has led over 450 process improvement projects across 18 agencies.  Over 540,000 hours of time have been saved, allowing our team to put an even greater focus on customer service.  From the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), these changes are delivering a higher level of services for you.

Since our state’s historic floods of 2019, NDOT has been working hard to repair roads and rebuild bridges.  In May, NDOT also took on the largest project in its history, beginning construction on the Lincoln South Beltway.  Process improvements are helping NDOT speed up its completion of construction projects like these. 

For example, NDOT’s Environmental Section uses “Green Sheets” to document and communicate the steps needed to reduce environmental impacts during a construction project.  The “Green Sheet” outlines actions to control erosion, protect endangered species or historic sites, and properly dispose of hazardous materials.  Once these actions are determined, NDOT’s Environmental Section forwards the “Green Sheet” to NDOT’s Construction Division.

The Construction Division lists these actions in their contracts to ensure contractors fulfill their environmental responsibilities during road construction.  NDOT sensed that the “Green Sheet” process was outdated and enlisted the help of COE to expedite it.  The team discovered how to eliminate 27 process steps (from 87 to 60) by moving from a paper to electronic distribution, review, and approval process.  This led to an 81% reduction in lead time, cutting the “Green Sheet” process from an average of 16 days to 3 days.  NDOT’s success on the project continues our wise stewardship of our natural resources, while helping to get Nebraska drivers moving.

Continuous improvement projects at Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are helping families caring for children with special needs.  DHHS reimburses families in the Disabled Children’s Program and Medically Handicapped Children’s Program for mileage and hotel expenses when they take a child to see a specialist.  Many of the families enrolled in these programs are financially disadvantaged.  Having to pay expenses up front, and then wait for reimbursement, can be challenging. 

DHHS enlisted the COE to review and improve the way the agency processes reimbursements.  By using electronic/fillable forms, the COE helped DHHS reduce the average time to issue reimbursement from 15 days to 2.67 days.  That’s impressive improvement.  It also makes a tremendous difference for families in Nebraska trying to take care of disabled children while living paycheck to paycheck.

Simple changes to how we do business add up to more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused state government.  Our team is working every day to cut through the red tape, so government can work for the people of our state.  If you have an idea for improving customer service in state government, email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.  We look forward to hearing from you.