Jonathan Walters is the Executive Editor of GOVERNING. He has been covering state and local public policy and administration for more than 30 years.E-mail: Jowaz22@gmail.com
While charter agencies may have disappeared in Iowa, their spirit lives on in the state's "lean" initiative.
While charter agencies may have disappeared in Iowa, the spirit of charters lives on in the state's "lean" initiative. According to John Baldwin, head of the Iowa Department of Corrections, "The charter initiative did give us a feeling of empowerment. And we made some good systemic changes." But where charters left off, lean has picked up, he says.
For example, as a result of a top-to-bottom efficiency review, his department consolidated all its systems for collecting and tracking child-support and restitution payments, increasing overall collections by more than 20 percent. The department has centralized all its records for tracking inmate credits, such as time earned for good behavior--making it much easier to track the tally for inmates as they move among state facilities. And the department has centralized its pharmaceutical services, which has put the department in a much better position to negotiate lower drug prices.
An even more fundamental "lean" initiative comes out of the state's procurement department. There, officials are encouraging agencies to become "certified centers of procurement excellence," a title conferred upon department personnel who have gone through training provided by the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing. Normally, other departments aren't allowed to negotiate contracts of more than $5,000 without the procurement agency's permission. Certified departments now have the procurement office's permission to negotiate agreements of up to $50,000.
"We've seen the time between when a request goes out to when a contract is signed shortened considerably," says Debbie O'Leary, head of the Department of Administrative Services' procurement office. "And this isn't just a process redesign that's helped streamline our workload. It's helped our client departments and their customers, as well."
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