Want government reform? Idea # 6: Go paperless.
House Finance Chairman Ross Hunter (D-Medina) is one of the most effective legislators in Olympia. He is courageously honest about good public policy and is fearless in his willingness to directly engage in the complex public policy challenges facing our state. While he’s a treasured friend, today I’m shamelessly appropriating one of his most imaginative ideas for government reform: Paperless state government.
While I’ve aggressively blogged about going paperless before, and I continue to be impressed that agencies like the state Lottery Commission have acted boldly in this area, I feel we must embrace this larger structural opportunity in the 2011 budget season.
On behalf of taxpayers, the environment, citizens and state employees themselves, let’s make Washington paperless.
What does that mean?
Let’s demand that any state report, brochure, publication or other material be presented in a digital format first and foremost. Only if and when a document is genuinely required to be printed for the sake of safety, immediate service delivery or other essential reason can it be printed.
Let’s require management to pay the true externalities of the full cost of printing. Let’s make it socially unacceptable within the halls of state government to print out reports, brochures, white papers, memoranda and other documents without a damn good reason. We are a 100,000 person organization serving 6.8 million citizens. We are large enough to make a difference in the marketplace of ideas and other cities, counties and government entities will follow our path.
Beyond the environment, the larger structural issue of going paperless is a new approach to transparency in state government. Our record retention policies are arguably a total and complete mess. Individual state agencies battle the bureaucratic rules of how long to keep emails, forms, documents and other information. Public record requests are expensive, cumbersome and tedious for all concerned because–in large part–it’s based upon paper records.
Our state’s $1 billion annual technology bill is so large in part because we haven’t had the courage to embark upon a paperless strategy where business processes and rules, guidelines and policies are managed for the digital age.
Going paperless is not a new or novel idea by any stretch and it won’t be easy. And while other governments around the country and world charge forward, we are no better positioned than anyone else to figure out how to make it happen. But it is inevitable that we will find ways to reach out to citizens for taxes, licenses, health care records, admission forms, school records and transcripts, and so many other services using digital infrastructure rather than paper, paper, paper.
As Ross and I know from the technology field, going paperless is not a technology problem, it’s a business process, rule, regulation, management and people challenge. It requires your workforce to fundamentally rethink how and why they do what they do.
How much will we save? Impossible to know although in my view the savings are in the tens of millions when you seriously reflect upon how much time, energy and effort is spent moving paper through the proverbial process.
What is the long term benefit to taxpayers, citizens and employees?
Your partner in service,