March | April 2017

Gov. Jay Nixon: Don’t Give Up on Good Ideas

By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, The Council of State Governments’ 2013 president, has set a goal to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of state government operations. His administration’s efforts have cut energy use, reduced leased space by nearly 420,000 square feet, eliminated unnecessary boards and commissions and put hundreds of state services online.

You launched a government efficiency initiative in November after your
re-election. What is your goal with this initiative?

“Twofold: to make sure we deliver more efficient—in other words, only spend resources where we have to—and effective services to more Missourians. It’s a constant effort. … The bottom line is this is an ongoing, continuing process for us to try to make sure we are delivering to the people of Missouri their services as efficiently as possible and embracing technology wherever possible.”

When people talk about efficiency, technology seems to be a big part of
reaching those goals.

“The government sector, by its very nature, has a lot of tasks that technology can make more efficient. It also allows people to access state services on their time schedule. As opposed to waiting in line to get a license renewal, you can go online at home and do that, or a fishing license or whatever. We have worked hard to use technology not only to respond to what was an economic downturn, a cut in the budget, but more importantly to be able to provide people services when they want them as opposed to merely on regular business hours.”

What steps have you taken, or will you take, to guarantee success for your
efficiency initiative?

“We’re going to measure it, watch very carefully what we get. We get monthly reports from all of our departments, plus we’re also engaging the legislature to work with us in this process. We’re trying to seek others’ thoughts, assistance and have this be a collaborative process, not merely a top-down ordering.”

What is your measurement of success—is it the amount of savings or
providing better services?

“I think you can have both. Clearly you’re looking for ways to save money and when you do save money, you can use those resources in ways that are more effective. All of us realize that the government sector, as far as the number of employees, continues to shrink. … Consequently, you’re always looking to ways to make things more efficient. And then you take those dollars—when you do save, when you narrow the number of repetitive tasks that are being done—and put them into things that can make a difference.”

How can states ensure long-term success of these changes?

“A couple of areas. We looked at our financial portfolio and have been retiring debt, restructuring bonds as interest rates have dropped. That can have both a short- and long-term effect. If you can take things that are being paid for out there and lower the interest rates, you can save real dollars in the short run, real dollars in the long run. I also think that embracing information technology is extremely important in (the) public sector now so that you can provide services to people online. … Short-term, saving dollars, but the long-term effect is not only that you can access public services more easily, but I think people will have more faith in government, have more support for public service and I think (that) can help build the team attitude of a state or a republic.”

What is the biggest challenge in making state government operate
more efficiently?

“Change is always hard in any organization. Whether it’s government or private sector, folks like to do things the way they did them before. The energy has to be there. The other challenge you face, sometimes people are just unsure about what the future is and are less likely to want to jump in. I think overall we’ve seen a very good attitude, both inside the government and outside, to work in a continuous systems improvement mode the way that modern manufacturing does.”

Do efforts to make state government more efficient necessarily mean more
cuts in the state government workforce?

“It can, but it also allows folks to be freed up to do productive things. … Last summer during the drought we stood up a program … that shifted the resources of our soil and water (departments) to put in additional wells in livestock operations so instead of having to sell off their cattle, they could put those wells in, keep those cattle and keep the market alive. We were able—in these situations when we free up people—to not necessarily (put them) out of service, but to get the most impactful efforts out of their time.”

What advice would you give to other state leaders in dealing with
these challenges?

“First of all, it’s to include folks and have collaboration, but set specific goals. We ended 118 nonperforming degree programs at our four-year public institutions of higher education without a single bill being passed by the legislature, without a single dollar being appropriated by anybody, by bringing together these leaders, laying out the goal and agreeing to a series of indices as to what was a performing degree program. My advice to folks is … bring the actors together and lay out your goals. It’s just amazing how willing people are to work together toward a specific goal if you bring them together and show respect for their positions. … Once you get buy-in on that, then drive it to the finish line.”

What did you learn from the 2011 “Rebooting State Government” report
and from the process about restructuring state government?

“One of the things we learned was working with the legislature, you can get a lot done. One of the things we talked about was getting some measurements over the tax credits we have in the state to make sure they are performing the goals for which they were passed many years ago. We’ve made some progress there but we still, even in this legislative session, we’re still moving forward on some of those recommendations from years ago. I think one of the things is that sometimes when you’re moving public policy, it takes a little longer. Sometimes things happen incrementally. My advice is when folks come up with really good ideas, if they don’t get done in the first six months or first year, don’t give up on them. Stick with them and oftentimes that willingness to stick with what is a legitimate goal can yield results in the out years.”

What do you believe is the most important consideration in implementing
government efficiency measures?

“As we evolve government into a technological age, as we expand our trade footprint internationally, as we have an education system that has to compete with everybody around the world, finding constant improvement, efficiencies and effectiveness has to be the mentality of those that serve in public service, because those that aren’t working to make things better are falling behind.”