Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Marybel Batjer

Secretary of Government Operations

(Eryagon Eidam)

(Eryagon Eidam)

Marybel Batjer knows how to make big moves quickly. In just five weeks in 2013, she went from being vice president of Caesars Entertainment Corporation in Las Vegas to becoming California’s first-ever secretary of the Government Operations Agency (CalGovOps). As soon as she arrived, she was given a mandate by Gov. Jerry Brown to begin a prompt overhaul in how the nation’s largest state government operates. But Batjer, who at age 62 has advised two other governors and been a Pentagon insider, knows how to move deliberately as well -- she has run the professional equivalent of a marathon or two already in her career. “You have to set yourself in a pace or cadence where you’re not trying to boil the ocean,” she says. “You’re not trying to learn the depth of everything -- but you’ve got to get on top of everything quickly.” 

In her four years heading up CalGovOps, she’s tackled California’s slow-moving bureaucracy head-on by shaking up the state’s hiring practices and project management. She is redesigning a personnel system she says has been “stuck in the last century,” with individual hires taking as much as a year and employees working in walled cubicles with outdated computers. That’s completely unappealing, she says, to a generation raised online. “People who are used to everything at the tip of their thumbs on their smartphones, they walk into a state office building and they’re taken back 30 years,” Batjer says. 

One way Batjer has changed the hiring process is by revamping civil service exams. More than 200 of these are now online in California, and Batjer wants to simplify things even more by consolidating exams for similar jobs offered by different state departments. She’s pushing to eliminate tests altogether for some licensed professionals, such as lawyers and doctors. And once candidates are hired, she is making sure their work environment is more responsive to the expectations of a younger generation. She has modernized employee orientation and made leadership training mandatory for supervisors.

But perhaps the biggest change under Batjer has been in the state’s IT department, where projects have historically run over time and over budget. To combat that, CalGovOps worked with the tech advisory group Code for America to introduce a new system that launches projects in stages. Known as agile project management, the system requires departments to hit specific benchmarks prior to moving ahead, such as successfully testing a procedure before applying it statewide. It sounds obvious, but for California, it is something new. The idea, says Batjer, is to “fail fast,” so that departments can find out in a matter of weeks -- rather than years -- if an idea needs to be reworked. The new approach is being tested on the state’s 20-year-old child welfare case management system, in which the traditional long-term contracting model is being dumped in favor of multiple contracts with vendors on shorter deadlines. This change has the eyes of the tech world and has made California the “epicenter of digital government services,” according to management expert Aaron Pava.

Recently, Batjer was preparing for a speech about agile management and asked her team what stood out to them during the transition. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any particular substantive change. It was the revolution in how decisions were made. “‘You made a decision. You said “yes,” and you said “yes” fast,’” Batjer remembers them telling her. “It’s a reminder that we do really cool things in government -- we just have to give people the ability to go do it.” 

 -- By Liz Farmer

See the rest of the 2017 public officials here. 


Content provided by Comcast: Robert Traynham's Newsmaker interview with Marybel Batjer - California State Government Overhaul

Natalie previously covered immigrant communities and environmental justice as a bilingual reporter at CityLab and CityLab Latino. She hails from the Los Angeles area and graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English literature.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.
As more people get vaccinated and states begin to roll back some of the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — schools, agencies and workplaces are working on a plan on how to safely return to normal.
The solutions will be a permanent part of government even after the pandemic is over.
See simple ways agencies can improve the citizen engagement experience and make online work environments safer without busting the budget.
Whether your agency is already a well-oiled DevOps machine, or whether you’re just in the beginning stages of adopting a new software development methodology, one thing is certain: The security of your product is a top-of-mind concern.