The legislature ended its special session last month with cuts to the state budget, including an overall reduction of about $12.7 million to the Attorney General’s Office in the 2011-2013 budget. These new reductions are on top of the nearly $13 million in cuts we’ve taken since the 2007-09 biennium. We have also been cutting positions in the office, and now pay fewer staff than we did in 2003 before I became AG.
These changes remind me why I am so fortunate, as the state’s top lawyer, to lead what I believe to be the top performing agency in state government, and the best Attorney General’s Office in America.
In fact, my Attorney General colleagues gave me a rare double honor on June 22 at our national meeting which in effect recognizes our entire office. They surprised me with the Kelley-Wyman Award for "Outstanding Attorney General" and they elected me as president of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Notwithstanding the cuts and downsizing we have experienced, we are working harder than ever, with higher client and employee satisfaction scores. This is possible because the Attorney General’s Office employs some of the hardest working, best and brightest legal professionals in the country. I can tell you firsthand that the people of Washington benefit greatly, and in many ways, from their skills, dedication and commitment to excellence in public service. One of those benefits is the culture of continuous improvement that all of us at the AGO have worked hard to build over the past six and a half years.
The Attorney General’s Office is going LEAN
Earlier this year, my office adopted LEAN government, a collection of principles and methods that identify and eliminate activities that fail to add value to our mission. I was inspired to incorporate LEAN principles after visiting organizations such as Children's Hospital in Seattle, where they have successfully adopted the Toyota Production System (based on the "kaizen" concept of continuous improvement which draws on staff member input).
Our goal in this effort is to rapidly identify ways to enhance our ability to complete the work of the Attorney General’s Office in a new budget environment with fewer employees. To that end, we used our “Speak Up” program as the platform to launch this new initiative.
As you may recall, shortly after taking office in 2005, I implemented the “Speak Up” program, a series of town hall meetings with AGO employees statewide, to gather staff input on ways to improve both the agency as a whole, as well as the legal services we provide to our state government clients.
Our employees, after all, are not only our greatest asset, they are also obviously in the best position and the most qualified to identify what is working, not working, or can be improved, in their individual areas of expertise. We recently completed our fourth round of Speak Ups, which set the stage for the Attorney General’s Office to go LEAN.
Given the current budget situation, I’m very proud to report that this latest round of Speak Ups, which focused on efficiency and quality improvements, produced an extraordinary number of insightful, useful and frank responses.
Creating the LEAN Governing oversight team
After the meetings, we established a LEAN Governing oversight team, which recently presented its first report to my Core Leadership Team. To date, the oversight team has reviewed and sorted by type, more than 50 pages of staff input, containing 463 new ideas and suggestions!
It’s important to note that the Speak Ups were successful because our employees recognize that suggesting a new way to increase efficiency or save money does not imply that the old way is "wrong" - official processes have usually been followed to the letter. It's just that processes need to be reconsidered and reinvented every so often, or eliminated altogether.
As our staff's ideas are pooled, developed and implemented, they see firsthand the power of collaboration and the benefits of tapping into the knowledge and expertise of colleagues around the state who have different experiences to share as they work in different courts, with different state agencies, etc.
Lean Governing begins with the public
Our LEAN governing process will begin with streamlining our agency’s process for responding to public inquiries. This is a critical area to address, because it demonstrates how well we serve individual citizens when they contact our office for assistance. It is also a complex area, because unlike other state agencies where public inquiries typically fall within the scope of a specific program or service such as licensing or transportation, citizens contact the Attorney General’s Office on a vast range of legal issues every day. Thus, our front line staff must quickly and accurately identify the expert who will be most helpful to our constituent, direct the inquiry accordingly, then track outcomes to ensure a timely response. That’s not always as easy as it may sound!
Once the oversight team completes its review of our public correspondence process, best practices will be identified and made available statewide. The ultimate goal is to ensure every AGO employee in every division, in every corner of the state, has access to and can benefit from the best, most efficient and most effective process for responding to people’s inquiries.
As the LEAN governing project continues, more teams will develop across the agency to review a wide range of other AGO procedures in search of efficiencies. As new best practices emerge, we will share them broadly, not only to reduce costs while improving services, but also to give all staff an opportunity to showcase their innovations.
Meanwhile, as the Attorney General’s Office continues to adapt to leaner and leaner budgets, we will remain committed to continuing our search for new and better ways to deliver excellence in public service to the citizens of Washington.