Sometimes old adages just don’t hold. Whoever said, “success has many fathers while failure is an orphan” was not thinking about modern political transitions. With 37 gubernatorial elections just weeks away -- many of which will result in an administration or party change, or both -- many minds are focused on the pending political transitions of executive branch officials across state government.
Indeed, some of the greatest successes of outgoing administrations may end up as orphans in order to increase the probability that they will be adopted by incoming administrations.
At a recent National Association of State Chief Administrators (NASCA) meeting, Doug Lynch, a senior consultant with the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, tackled the problem of sustaining a program’s success across administrations by coming at it from the other direction. “Is death failure, or is it just saying the work is done?” he asked.
A pair of NASCA delegates went so far as to suggest dropping program names to get the “incumbent stink” off of productive initiatives that were championed by the departing old guard.
For Brad Douglas, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Administrative Services (DOAS), sustaining success is more than an academic exercise. And as the current administration ends thanks to term limits, “There is a degree of uncertainty all through this process,” he says.
Douglas’ story begins in 2003 when Sonny Perdue, the state’s first Republican governor since reconstruction, set out to make Georgia one of the best managed states in the country. The newly formed Commission for a New Georgia, based on a campaign pledge, identified 20 areas of state government that needed to be fixed -- procurement was chief among them. The governor also created an Office of Implementation to make sure things actually got done. Douglas has been on point for the comprehensive transformation of procurement and a host of other core administrative services in state government.
Now as he confronts the coming transition, Douglas says that first and foremost, the numbers speak for themselves. “Having two-thirds of the staff we started with when we first appointed, [DOAS has realized] a 90 percent reduction in reliance on state appropriated funds,” he says. A suite of integrated and automated procurement tools, called Team Georgia Marketplace, has aggregated $1.6 billion in purchasing in the last fiscal year across 12 major agencies, according to Douglas, that previously went under the radar. It brought together purchasing to make the state a bigger buyer and, through analytic technologies, a smarter buyer. For the first time, the state can see more precisely what it’s spending while curtailing “maverick spending.”
The story is the same in fleet management where, for the first time, the state knows how many vehicles it has, as well as data on the level and type of use. Georgia also was the first state to move its Surplus Property Program completely online. It still redistributes or sells millions of dollars of federal and state-owned vehicles, computers and other equipment -- but without all the overhead. In a shift to Internet auctions and other means, the program closed its three warehouses; sold the trucks, forklifts and pallet jacks used to operate them; reduced staff from 35 to eight; and saved more than $1 million in the process.
The new ways of running the general services of government were first codified by the Legislature in 2005, which have been further defined through administrative rule making in the intervening years. DOAS also has been careful to place people who can sustain the changes in key roles throughout the agency. Moreover, customer agencies have earned greater delegated authority by ensuring that their purchasing staffs are certified under the state’s new rigorous training program. Because agency competence and spending authority rose commensurately with each other, the number of protests have actually dropped.
“We think there are numerous changes that have been made that are going to withstand the test of time,” Douglas says, “because every day, with tools we are getting in place, we’re getting smarter and smarter.”
The self-described change agent knows it’s a slow but steady process that can have tremendous payoff down the line -- and he understands he might not be around when that happens. “There’s a lot of pride,” he says, “but I don’t know necessarily that there’s a tremendous amount of ownership.”