© December, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Report of the e-Texas Commission

e-Texas Chapter 6 | Endnotes

From Theory to Action

If government is known for anything, it’s the huge quantity of paperwork it spills forth—a perennial burden for businesses and individuals alike. But the private sector isn’t alone in its suffering. Any government manager can tell you it’s easy to spend a large portion of every day simply coping with the forms, rules, and requirements generated by other agencies.

Debbie Bennight heads the documentation group of the Comptroller’s Fiscal Management Division. She’s in charge of thousands of notices that must be sent to state agencies each year, covering everything from accounting changes to payroll process modifications. These mailings, known in government-speak as “green border” and “migration” notices, range from one to ten pages in length, and they’re sent out several times a week.

Until recently, the printing and mailing of these notices cost Texas taxpayers nearly $95,000 a year—and that figure doesn’t include the thousands of hours of employee time spent in passing them from one in-box to another.

The paperwork was a burden for the Comptroller’s office too. After Bennight’s group generated a notice, it had to go through another seven steps before it even left the building. Then it was off to the General Services Commission for delivery to state offices in Austin, or to the post office for agencies outside the capitol.

“Once it left my hands, it could easily be seven days before all Texas agencies received the notices,” says Bennight. “A lot of them are time-sensitive, such as balances for petty cash, and information on security access to the payroll system. If they didn’t reach the agencies soon enough, they couldn’t meet their deadlines.” But this is one problem that has been solved.

As part of the Comptroller’s e-Texas initiative, Bennight and her group cut the seven days down to as little as seven seconds. How? By using e-mail. The group now e-mails its notices and documents to state agencies through a sophisticated database program that contains some 37 different mailing lists. This simple change took only a few weeks to implement, but it will save the agency more than $94,724 a year in printing and distribution costs, savings that will be reinvested in additional e-government applications, and should significantly increase the productivity of a number of workers.

Next on Bennight’s hit list is the Comptroller’s Manual of Accounts, a massive document that provides detailed descriptions of the accounts and accounting codes used in maintaining the state’s books. It’s about the size of two metropolitan phone books. Already online, the manual will, in the future, be available in a searchable, web-based format, enabling the agency to eventually eliminate the paper-based version.

TABLE 6-1: Quick Wins
PROJECT Description Impact Category Status
AIMS Education Best Practices Database Electronic database of best practices uncovered in school performance reviews. Enhanced customer service Education COMPLETE
CTV-Comptroller TV Allows agency employees to access video taped materials from their desktop using a browser. Enhanced employee training E-Government UNDERWAY
Electronic Auctions for Short-Term Deposits Allow approved state depositories to interactively compete for state deposits every month. Estimated increased earnings: $700,000/annually E-Government COMPLETE
Electronic Tax Filing and Payments via Internet (WebFile) Sales Tax Short Form Filers can file and pay their taxes through the Internet. "WebFile" allows 24/7 convenience for Texas businesses. Payment options are WebEFT, where the taxpayer enters bank information and a debit is transacted and American Express an Enhanced customer service E-Government UNDERWAY
Gifted and Talented Pilot Program Pilot project launched w/UT High School, Cisco Systems and the Texas Association for the Gifted & Talented to give gifted and talented students better access to technological resources in order to advance their education. Includes Paris ISD, Plainview ISD Enhanced access to education resources Education/ E-Government UNDERWAY
Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Web site The Comptroller is developing a Web site to assist local governments with the implementation of GASB Statement No. 34/35. Enhanced customer service E-Government UNDERWAY
Helping Schools Make Technology Work Managing Information Technology from Classroom to Lunchroom released April 2000 Enhanced customer service Education COMPLETE
Hotel Occupancy Tax Accounts Book Move online – supplement hard copy distribution with Internet access Enhanced customer service E-Government/ Competitive Government UNDERWAY
Information Technology (IT) Academy Public/private partnership to recruit and train entry-level technology workers for state government. Increased human capital Human Resource Management COMPLETE
Interactive Employee Electronic Idea Database Electronic brainstorming program to solicit ideas for saving taxpayer money. Increased speed Government Performance COMPLETE
Online Job Applications Moved agency's entire job application process online. Enhanced internal customer service E-Government/ Human Resource Management COMPLETE
Online Notices to State Agencies Eliminated hard copy distribution of select Fiscal Management publications. Estimated $94,724 annual cost savings E-Government/ Competitive Government COMPLETE
Online Personnel Manual and Employee Handbook Eliminated paper distribution of documents Estimated $15,375 cost savings in FY 2000 as compared to FY 1997 E-Government/ Human Resources COMPLETE
Outsource Debt Collection Increased collections through a contract with a private firm. Estimated $3,685,934 revenue increase (2/2000-8/2000) Competitive Government COMPLETE
Outsource Fiscal Notes printing Activity outsourced. Potential cost savings Competitive Government COMPLETE
Outsource Outgoing Mail Services Activity outsourced. Estimated $357,388-First year cost savings compared to FY 1999 Competitive Government COMPLETE
Outsource Seat Management Agency to pursue a service agreement to provide personal computer resources and support, PC hardware and software. Enhanced services and potential cost savings Competitive Government UNDERWAY
Sale of Unclaimed Stocks and Use of Technology to Improve Management of Unclaimed Stocks Unclaimed stocks now are electronically deposited with the Depository Trust Company (DTC), a firm that handles the bulk of all stock transactions in the US. Improved business process Asset & Financial Management UNDERWAY
State-to-Vendor Payment Information Online Designed to assist vendors in obtaining non-confidential vendor payment information. Increased speed and time savings for vendors E-Government COMPLETE
Sublease CPA Warehouse Space Sublease 7,885 sq. ft. of warehouse space not currently utilized to other state agencies. Estimated $38,912 cost savings in FY 2001 Asset & Financial Management UNDERWAY
Teleworking for State Government Expanded Comptroller's telework program for auditors and property tax appraisers. Cost avoidance Human Resources Management COMPLETE
Texnet Internet A computer and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system which allows individuals and corporations to make tax and other payments to the state. Enhanced customer service E-Government COMPLETE
Unclaimed Property Claims Automated Phone System An automated, interactive service phone system to efficiently handle routine claims status inquiries. Customers can obtain an updated status of their claims 24/7. Enhanced customer service Asset & Financial Management COMPLETE
Unclaimed Property Electronic Auctions Texas was the first state in the nation to sell unclaimed property online and to simulcast the state’s annual live auction. Enhanced competition and enhanced customer service E-Government COMPLETE

The moral? “Don’t be afraid to try something new,” says Bennight.

Pay attention whenever you hear someone say “We’ve always done it this way,” that’s generally a good sign that change is overdue.

An Emphasis on Action

As this story demonstrates, the ultimate goal of e-Texas is not simply to publish another government report. Our goal is real change. Clear vision and strong imagination are fine things, but unless we can translate that vision into actual improvements in the machinery of government, our efforts will have been wasted. In that spirit, we have worked hard during the past year to accomplish as much substantive change as possible, before the release of this report. These measures were dubbed “quick wins”—reforms that could be put into place without legislation, both within the Comptroller’s office and in collaboration with other agencies.

These quick wins (see Table 6-1) have ranged from large undertakings, such as assisting in launching the State of Texas’ electronic portal by building a payment mechanism, to small but important changes, such as the elimination of the paper notices from the Comptroller previously discussed.

Working with other agencies whenever possible, e-Texas and the Comptroller’s office have initiated an average of more than two quick wins a month since e-Texas was launched in November 1999. While it is a good start, we are still only scratching the surface of what is possible in the Internet Age.

Moving Purchasing Online

On April 3, 2000, ten observers crowded into Comptroller purchaser Joe Gutierrez’ small cubicle to witness a purchase of erasable markers from the Texas Industries for the Blind and Handicapped. The reason this seemingly routine transaction attracted such attention was that Gutierrez was conducting the first-ever online transaction under Texas’ e-procurement pilot project called Texas Government to Business (TxG2B). Later that day, a bid solicitation by the Texas Department of Transportation for bulk fuels and an order made by the Texas Department of Health for supplies from the General Services Commission (GSC) completed the system tests.

Private companies such as Cisco and IBM have saved tens of millions of dollars annually by moving cumbersome, paper-driven purchasing systems onto the Web. Governments, by contrast, have been much slower to adopt electronic procurement. But with an electronic procurement pilot project authorized by the 1997 Legislature called Texas Government to Business Project, Texas is taking steps to catch up with the private sector.

In February 2000, Texas contracted with Baltimore-based Syscom, Inc., to design the state’s e-procurement system. GSC operates this new electronic commerce network, which allows state agencies to solicit, receive, evaluate, and award bids completely online through a purchasing Web site.[1] The ultimate goal of this project is to move all of the functions connected with state purchasing—ordering, bidding, billing, and paying—to a Web-based, paperless environment. The electronic procurement pilot ran through August 2000, when the contract was renewed for another year.

E-procurement offers the promise of tremendous savings in labor, paper, postage, and all the other handling and processing costs connected with purchasing. According to GSC veteran Jamie Spiegel, who heads the e-procurement project, “E-procurement reduces processing costs by eliminating unnecessary, paper-based steps, and by combining the purchasing power of all of state government and, eventually, local governments. It will increase efficiency, allow products to be delivered to end users faster, and reduce the number of ‘hands’ currently involved.” Right now, the processing of purchase orders costs state agencies between $100 and $150 apiece.[2] E-procurement could slash that cost to no more than a couple of dollars per transaction.

The e-procurement system also makes choosing the right vendor fast and easy. “As intuitive as the system is, the time needed to process orders should be greatly reduced,” explains Gutierrez. “The ability to combine unrelated items on one order further cuts processing times.” Any employee authorized to access the new system can search for suppliers by type, key words, or standard item codes. Front-line employees who need supplies will be able to use the system to get what they need when they need it, with a few clicks of a mouse.

While much work still lies ahead for Texas, so far the vendor community is enthusiastic about the e-procurement project. “Texas’ portal will allow for significant enhancements to the overall purchasing process because it will provide consistency both for the buyers and the sellers,” says Carolyn Price, formerly with Strategic Partnerships, Inc., which represents many state vendors. “Vendors will receive the benefit of having increased visibility to their customer base because they are able to post catalogs and have direct interaction with state agency buyers through one system.”

Another advantage to the new system, according to Price, is that it will make it much easier for prime contractors to identify and partner with HUBs (Historically Underutilized Businesses). Previously, prime bidders had to painstakingly research which HUBs might be appropriate for a particular procurement. It took a lot of time and was often a hit-or-miss process. In the near future, a potential bidder can receive this customized information automatically from the procurement portal.

The next step will be to make e-procurement the standard way of doing business for all of state government, a topic that is discussed later in this report.

Bond Bidding Goes Electronic
In January 2000, the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) began using the Internet to accept bids for revenue and general obligation bonds. “Today’s use of the Internet is an initial step in moving toward greater efficiencies at the Texas Public Finance Authority,” according to Dan Branch, TPFA’s board chairman. “By putting the official statement on a Web site and e-mailing copies of it to investors, we were able to save several thousands of dollars on printing costs.” TPFA approved bids for about $18 million in Texas Parks and Wildlife revenue bonds, and $16.3 million in general obligation park development bonds.

TPFA is exploring other uses of the Internet as well. “The board is committed to considering other opportunities to use the Internet to save money and make our operations even more efficient, including conducting online auctions where bidders can make multiple bids [and] see the lowest bids,” says Branch.

Saving Money and Expanding Markets through Online Auctions

Each year, the state becomes the custodian for thousands of pieces of personal property, from jewelry to stock certificates. These properties are the contents of unclaimed safe-deposit boxes turned over to the state by banks that cannot locate the property owners. If the property remains unclaimed after publishing the owners’ names in state newspapers and on the Internet, it is sold by the Comptroller’s office in public auctions. An auction held in October 1999 featured more than 93,000 items and raised more than $320,000. However, the auctions traditionally have been limited to potential buyers who can attend the events, generally held in Austin.

To create more competition in the bidding, and give more people the chance to bid on unclaimed property, Comptroller Rylander conducted the state’s first Web-based auction in December 1999. The state contracted with three online auction companies, eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon.com, to sell 81 items, including jewelry, silver flatware, stamps, coins, currency, and collectibles. The items included a 19th century diamond brooch, an 1848 survey of a site near Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, and a vintage Blancpain ladies’ gold wristwatch. The total appraised value of the items was just short of $10,000.

The online auction was a huge success. The items generated 743 bids, with winning bids from all over the world, including Hong Kong, Canada, and Germany. The auction brought in $12,250, 19 percent above the appraised value.

In San Antonio in July 2000, the Comptroller went a step further by holding Texas’ first-ever Web simulcast of a live unclaimed property auction. The auction netted more than $364,000 for the state and had 384 registered online simulcast bidders competing against 300 floor bidders. One of the winning bidders was from the U.K. A longtime auction enthusiast, the Englishman e-mailed the Comptroller that this simulcast was one of his best. “The auction was great fun and very exciting even to someone of my senior years who has been going to live auctions all his life,” he told us. “It seemed to me that, generally speaking, you achieved a sale price that was in keeping with your suggested prices.”

“Online auctions may not replace the traditional unclaimed property auction, but they can certainly complement it,” says Comptroller Rylander. “Online auctions give us another opportunity to take advantage of the dynamic nature of the new economy.”

Sale of Unclaimed Stocks Funds Teacher Pay Raise
The Comptroller’s Treasury Operations Division is using information technology to improve the way it manages unclaimed stocks. Unclaimed stocks now are electronically deposited with the Depository Trust Company (DTC), a firm that handles the bulk of all stock transactions in the US. “With the new investment system, we know how much our DTC holdings are worth every single day,” says Comptroller Rylander. “We can sell stock when it’s prudent to do so, and use the money for the benefit of the state.”

Texas previously had no policy for liquidating unclaimed stock, and despite the Comptroller’s efforts to publicize unclaimed property each year, more than $700 million worth of property remains unclaimed.

The Comptroller has decided to turn this stock into assets for the state by selling $40 million worth of unclaimed stock certificates to fund raises for higher education faculty members. Each state campus will receive a 3 percent increase in funding for faculty merit raises, to be divided as each university sees fit. “The state is allowed to put unclaimed funds to good use, and I can’t think of a better use than to give the distinguished and dedicated faculty members of Texas colleges and universities a well-deserved pay raise,” Comptroller Rylander said.

Paying Taxes with the Click of a Mouse

Everyone knows that paying taxes—the main contact many people have with government—can be a frustrating, time-consuming, and paper-intensive task. Texas, of course, doesn’t have a personal income tax. Since its sales taxes are collected by merchants, businesses bear the primary burdens both of reporting and paying them. By simplifying its tax forms and aggressively moving tax filing and payment functions online, the Comptroller’s office hopes to make the whole experience of paying taxes a little less of a burden for Texas companies.

For the last two years, merchants with no sales tax due to the state have been able to file their state tax returns online, skipping a trip to the post office. WebFile, an interactive Web application introduced in October 1998, gives taxpayers the convenience of 24/7 service and an instant confirmation receipt from the Comptroller’s office. As taxpayer Geary Hughes told us, “WebFile is an outstanding way to utilize taxpayer dollars in a most efficient manner.” Information entered by the taxpayer into a secure Web site is checked for errors immediately and then recorded directly to the appropriate account. The state receives and processes around 250,000 no-tax-due returns each year. In 1999, about 10 percent of these returns were received through WebFile; this number is expected to increase to 20 percent or more in 2001.

In October 2000, WebFile was expanded to allow companies that do owe sales tax and can file the state’s short form to do it electronically. (Major retailers with multiple outlets and traveling vendors can file through the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or a long sales tax form and are not eligible yet for WebFile unless they have zero sales to report at all locations.) The application automatically calculates the amount subject to tax and the tax due. A new feature of the system, “WebEFT” (Electronic Fund Transfer via the Internet), makes paying as easy as filling out a check. The taxpayer simply keys in the bank routing number, account number, amount, and transfer date on his or her computer screen.[3] The system also accepts Discover and American Express cards, and includes an online convenience fee.[4] The Comptroller’s office receives approximately 1.7 million short form sales tax returns each year. It is anticipated that at least 15 percent of the returns are expected to be e-filed in the first year and that number should increase greatly in the future.

The value of online tax filing and payment is not just about taxpayer convenience. The state could save millions of dollars in processing costs if most taxpayers can be persuaded to file taxes online. To understand why, we will briefly step into the world of tax processing.

First, the amount of paper the state processes in tax returns each year is enormous. If laid end-to-end, the paper would stretch from Laredo to New York City. This massive volume means that when paper returns come in the mail, they are not sorted by people, but by a 20-foot long sorting machine that resembles a long cafeteria line. After the returns are sorted, employees take them out of the envelopes, check for missing data, and pass the returns on to colleagues who fix or adjust the return so the information is ready to be scanned and entered into the computer.[5]

This is when the process can get complicated—and very labor intensive. Quite often the information on the forms is not correct—calculations are incorrect or the data may be only a portion of what the taxpayer is responsible for reporting. Sometimes staff can fix the forms on their own. Other times they have to call the taxpayer and get additional information. “With phone tag and all the rest, a return can take days or a week or more to be fixed,” one employee told us.

Often the Comptroller’s office gets two reports for the same period of time. This situation creates its own problems: the computer cannot determine which one to take. One has correct information and the other has incorrect information—which means someone has to figure out what was supposed to be reported. Sometimes the return may have been filed accidentally with an incorrect taxpayer number, and it takes even more time to reconcile the problem.

With electronic filing and payment, nearly all this “process” simply disappears. “All of the front-end processing is done at the point of entry by the taxpayer,” explains Jena Thomas, who is in charge of the Comptroller’s WebFile project. A computer program at the Web site guides the user through the return. The system checks the taxpayer account number against data in the system, points out any missing data, and even calculates the tax due for them. The screens give a summary of what has been done so far at each step of the process, and gives the user choices and reminders. “WebFile gets tax returns in here error-free,” says Thomas. This cuts out a great deal of expense to the state.

The next step is to put in place incentives to get more taxpayers to file online so both taxpayers and the state can benefit from this customer-friendly system. “It’s a win-win situation,” says Thomas. “The taxpayer saves postage and a trip to the post office, we save from not having to deal with the paper return. The taxpayer can do this whenever they like (24/7), and with online help, we let our computer do most of the work, allowing our staff to help taxpayers with other issues.”

Good Ideas Online!
The State Employee Incentive Program (SEIP), administered by the Texas Incentive and Productivity Commission (TIPC), is a decade-old program that provides financial incentives to state employees who develop ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state government. Since its inception, SEIP has saved Texas taxpayers around $13 million. Until recently, however, SEIP was a paper-bound process that required both submitters and evaluators of ideas to fill out paper forms and other hard-copy documentation was created in processing suggestions.

SEIP was a perfect candidate for automation. Now it promises to become an easily navigable system that collects suggestions in a searchable database and provides automated receipt notices when suggestions are received and entered. An initial August 1998 meeting led to more than a year of planning, programming, and testing that resulted in an Internet-based version of SEIP.

The Texas Department of Health, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and Texas Racing Commission agreed to test the electronic suggestion system and provide feedback on its usefulness to TIPC. Between April 12 and July 11, 1999, employees of these agencies submitted 104 suggestions via the Internet. This trial run identified some errors and unmet user needs, paving the way for a stable Web-based program.

SEIP Online debuted throughout the state in September 1999, providing on-demand updates on the progress of the evaluation process and automatic e-mail notification to submitters, evaluators, and SEIP coordinators on the status of suggestions. Suggestion records are maintained on the Web site, and status updates are made by auto-generated e-mails, eliminating the need for many of the paper records previously kept as part of SEIP administration.

In a similar move, e-Texas recently launched an in-house “electronic brainstorming” program at the Comptroller’s office, managed through an online forum, to solicit ideas from agency staff on saving state funds, reducing spending, and increasing revenues from existing sources. Ideas are being sought that are applicable to the Comptroller’s office, other agencies, or state government in general. As of August 31, 2000, the program had generated 130 ideas touching on a wide variety of areas in state government. The program is being coordinated with SEIP to ensure that credit is applied appropriately.

Applying the Yellow Pages Test

One of Comptroller Rylander’s principles for improving government is the “Yellow Pages Test”—the idea that government should do no job if there is a business in the Yellow Pages that can do that job better and at a lower cost. While a radical notion for government, the idea is really no different than the make-or-buy decisions made every day by Texas companies; a manufacturer or an insurance company won’t choose to do something in-house when an outside contractor can do the job better and at a lower cost.

Printing. The Comptroller’s first application of the Yellow Pages Test was the printing of the agency’s flagship publication, Fiscal Notes. Comptroller Rylander asked a simple question: “Why is the state in the business of printing newsletters when dozens of companies in Austin alone can perform this service?” When the service was opened to competition in July 1999, the private bid came in lower than the state’s annual cost and opening up the service to competition resulted in improved print quality—Fiscal Notes is now three-color instead of two-color. The success prompted the Comptroller to outsource six other publications, to private printers.

Mail Services. When trying to save money, government sometimes may find that a process functions reasonably well, but other factors such as the age of the equipment, changing technology, or the total cost of operations warrant looking to the private sector for solutions. On other occasions, the basic question is simpler: is this a core function of the agency? When e-Texas examined the Comptroller’s outgoing mail operation, it soon became apparent that the operation needed about $2 million in new equipment to remain efficient and that the service was not a core agency function. These factors quickly convinced us that mail service was another good candidate for private competition.

The e-Texas team began by conducting an activity-based costing (ABC) analysis of the outgoing mail function to determine its full cost and better understand the main cost factors involved. The Comptroller’s outgoing mail division employed a total staff of 12, occupied warehouse space costing $43,000 a year, and processed 9.4 million pieces of outgoing mail in 1999. Price quotes to replace current equipment were in excess of $2 million, and maintenance agreements to keep the existing equipment running cost the agency approximately $135,000 a year.[6] The ABC analysis also showed that contracting for the service might allow the agency to realize a bulk discount on its volume of mail and reduce its postage rates.

After the initial feasibility analyses were completed, the agency developed a request for proposals (RFP) and circulated it to the private sector in March 2000. The RFP requested bids on the processing of all Comptroller outgoing mail. In June 2000, the agency finished evaluating its responses from private vendors and awarded a contract to a private vendor in August 2000.

The agency should save more than $357,000 in the first full year of the contract, without any interruption of service. These savings will be reinvested in new e-government technology and applications to better serve Texas taxpayers. No employees lost their jobs as a result of the contract. Mailroom workers were reassigned to vacant positions held open in anticipation of the service being outsourced.

Recruiting and Training a High-Tech State Workforce

Like many other states across the country, Texas is struggling to maintain qualified workers in the face of a mass exodus of information technology (IT) specialists to more lucrative positions in the private sector. Since the late 1990’s, about six of every ten state IT workers have left for private employment where 34,000 IT jobs still remain unfilled. We estimate that about 800 vital IT positions in Texas state government remain unfilled simply because the state cannot compete with the salaries and benefits offered by private industry.

To ease the worker shortages that force state agencies and corporations to vie for qualified IT personnel, the Comptroller’s e-Texas initiative spearheaded the creation of the Texas State Information Technology Academy in December 1999. This collaborative effort between the state and the private sector is designed to help the state recruit, train, and retain IT workers for key positions, while also expanding the private IT labor pool.

The IT Academy has a Public-Private Advisory Committee representing 41 state agencies and universities and 32 technology companies, including Oracle, Cisco, Keane, Dell Computer Corporation, Compaq, Sybase, and IBM. “This collaboration between multiple agencies and the private sector is a unique effort in Texas,” says IT Academy program coordinator Kimberlee Hanken. “State agencies typically operate independently on staffing issues, but because every agency is hurting from the IT drain, it didn’t take much convincing to get them to combine resources.”

The Texas IT Academy recruits both recent graduates with liberal arts and general business degrees and professionals looking for a career change. The response to the Academy’s first recruiting drive was overwhelming. In Spring 2000, more than 900 people from Texas and beyond applied for the Academy’s freshman class. In July, 30 participants were selected and matched with 16 participating agencies. The initial results appear promising. “The IT Academy provides an opportunity to fill positions with quality entry-level professionals, skilled specifically in the technologies state government needs,” says Carolyn Purcell, executive director of the Texas Department of Information Resources.

Before the Academy’s first class entered the state workforce in early November 2000, trainees underwent intensive training in IT skills delivered in a 14-week “boot camp” setting. The curriculum developed by the public-private advisory committee covers hardware, operating systems, and architecture; application development and software; computer networking; Internet and intranet functions; and project and process management. The sessions are taught primarily by private-sector experts, as well as some public employees.

In return for their free training, participants must make a two-year commitment to state employment. “At the end of this time, they can either continue working for the state or move into the private sector,” explains Hanken. Texas IT Academy participants earn entry-level state salaries while attending the Academy, each “sponsored” by one of the 16 participating state agencies they will later join. “That’s the big attraction,” says Olga Nieto, an IT Academy participant who will work for the Texas Department of Human Services. “It’s hands-on training combined with education. And two years is the magic number. If you want a good job, you have to have at least two years of experience.”

During the two years that participants are committed to their sponsoring agencies, they also may take advantage of ten days of continuing training opportunities.[7]

The Texas School Performance Review’s A+ Ideas for Managing Schools (AIMS)
Since its creation in 1991, the Comptroller’s Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) has conducted in-depth, on-site performance reviews of 45 Texas school districts. The program has recommended more than 4,300 changes to district operations that could save these districts more than $485 million, and has identified hundreds of best practices that could improve the operations of other school districts. Yet, with more than 1,000 public school districts in Texas, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander set out to find a way to share these good ideas with districts around the state. “With today’s technology, there is no reason for a school district to face a challenge alone when other districts have successfully addressed the same challenge,” Comptroller Rylander said.

To accomplish this, TSPR and e-Texas have collaborated on the development of the A+ Ideas for Managing Schools (AIMS) database, designed to help school districts drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom through effective management techniques.

This unique Web site, located at <www.aimsdatabase.org>, contains hundreds of successful management practices gathered from performance reviews of public school districts from across Texas, as well as a series of self-assessment guides to help districts address their most critical management challenges.

Sixteen districts participated in the initial development and review of the information in the database and others continue to work on their submissions. With 10 new school performance reviews released in 2000 and another 20 reviews to be released in 2001, TSPR will be adding additional good management ideas to the database every month. Some of these ideas will work for a specific district while others may not. That’s why the database contains a variety of approaches—a school district can decide what works for them.

Best practices in the database include energy management programs that can reduce district energy costs; strategies for increasing participation in breakfast and lunch programs to qualify for more federal aid; effective teacher recruitment methods; and ways to improve community relations, to name a few.

The Texas School Performance Review won a 1999 Innovations in American Government award for its efforts to improve education. The John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University administers the awards in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government. They are funded by the Ford Foundation, which gave TSPR and nine other award winners $100,000 grants to replicate their cutting-edge programs across the nation.

Bringing State Hiring Practices into the 21st Century

While private companies spend billions of dollars on sophisticated recruiting programs, sometimes government seems to do everything it can to discourage the best and brightest from going into public service. In hearings, interviews, and e-mails, e-Texas heard from dozens of frustrated state job-seekers who told us that weeks or even months often elapsed after they applied for a state job before they heard back from anyone.

Moreover, while most large, private companies encourage applicants to send their résumés by e-mail and complete job applications online, most state agencies require applicants to fill out and sign job applications and send them in by mail. If individuals want to apply for more than one position, usually they must fill out separate applications for each.

These archaic practices discourage ambitious, tech-savvy graduates from even applying for state jobs. They also cause major headaches for state managers trying to fill open positions. Signed paper applications drive a paper-bound process little different from those used in the 19th century. Each application is put in a folder created for it, and then that folder drifts from desk to desk in an agency’s Human Resources Department. Days or even weeks may pass before the manager who desperately needs a new hire even sees the résumés. One state manager told us that his division had a handful of job openings that had to be filled right away, but it still took more than a month for his Human Resources Department to assemble folders and deliver a batch of applications. By the time that he could review the résumés and start calling promising candidates, half of them had already accepted other positions.

In an attempt to move the state’s hiring and interviewing processes into the 21st century, the Comptroller’s office placed its entire job application process online in August 2000. Now, applicants can e-mail their résumés to the agency and fill out the mandatory state job application online. Then they are contacted by e-mail to acknowledge receipt of their applications and asked to supply any additional information the agency may need.

Multiple applications are no longer required; job-seekers only need to fill out only one application, regardless of the number of jobs for which they wish to apply. They also can update their applications and review the status of any current job openings online. In addition, they can enter their job skills on the online application, which is stored electronically for later review should any other jobs requiring those skills become available.

After the application is filled out, the system gathers any necessary Equal Employment Opportunity data and simultaneously routes the applicant data straight to the hiring manager and to the Comptroller’s Human Resources (HR) Division for agency records.

Under the new system, managers who need to fill positions quickly can contact job applicants within hours or even minutes after they apply, instead of days or weeks. They also can search a constantly-updated database of applicant résumés for candidates with suitable skills. “Ultimately, applicants scheduled for interviews will be contacted sooner and hired that much faster,” says Morris Winn, the Comptroller’s HR Manager who spearheaded the online project.

The technology for making the job application process electronic has been around for years. It probably wouldn’t even get a mention if this change had occurred in the private sector, but no other state agency has fully implemented online applications. Winn explains that it had always been accepted belief among HR professionals in state government that you were required to get an applicant’s signature in order for them to go through the interviewing process. But when he actually researched it, however, he discovered nothing in state law that actually requires it. “Once I found that out, I told my staff ‘enough is enough; lets bring these processes into the 21st century,’ ” says Winn.

The Comptroller’s web-based job application solution can be readily adopted by other state agencies to enhance their own hiring processes. State agencies, moreover, already maintain electronic linkages to submit reports to the Comptroller, and these linkages might someday be used to share hiring information so that more state agencies could have access to promising candidates.

Next Steps

The last few months have been both challenging and exhilarating for the e-Texas team, as one “quick win” after another has fallen into place. These efforts have shown that real change can be accomplished in government. It’s not easy, of course. It requires dedication and effort, and the willingness to listen to and seek the advice of the front-line employees and customers who know the limitations of the state’s systems best. Above all, it requires the courage to move beyond the tried and true, to oppose entrenched bureaucracy and fight hard for the best interests of Texas taxpayers.

The quick wins have proved their point. Now this effort needs to be expanded throughout state government—by legislators and state agencies alike—so that Texas government ultimately can achieve the promise to provide high-quality services to Texans in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible—services that can help our state grow and prosper in the uncharted economy of the 21st century. That’s the goal e-Texas believes we can achieve, if we start now.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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