Governor’s Conference on Organizational Excellence
Thank you. It is good to be with you this afternoon.
We received a great number of nominations for the STAR Awards in recognition of organizational achievement in government.
Government achievement is not an oxymoron. Sometimes we read in the paper about agency mishaps, or about a legislator grilling agency directors.
It can leave a skewed impression about how state government operates. That’s why it is vitally important that we recognize excellence in the operations of government.
As a former agency head myself, I know that there are a lot of bright minds working in state government. Texas is blessed to have thousands of dedicated, innovative state employees who value taxpayer money, and who treat those we serve like businesses treat their customers.
It is my pleasure to now recognize some of the best and brightest in state government.
As I call out the names of agencies receiving the Star Awards, I would ask that their representatives come forward to receive their recognition.
Receiving recognition in the large agency category is the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. This agency has taken the Survey of Organizational Excellence all four times it has been administered and received high ratings on each occasion.
The TNRCC also met 100 percent accuracy in measures sampled by the State Auditor’s Office. The TNRCC has diligently merged the functions of three distinct agencies into one, and recently finished Sunset review without any major organizational restructuring.
It is an agency with a difficult mission that requires balancing many political interests, so they often have someone that is upset with them.
As Governor, I know what that’s like. But regardless, the TNRCC is full of bright, hard working employees who care deeply about our precious natural resources, and they should be applauded for their efforts.
Receiving recognition in the mid-sized agency category is the Teacher Retirement System. They, too, have taken the Survey of Organizational Excellence four times, and yielded high ratings each time. They have achieved 100 percent on performance target assessments, managing teacher retirement funds with the greatest of care.
Lastly, in the small agency category, the State Office of Administrative Hearings is this year’s recipient of the Star Award. They also have taken the Survey of Organizational Excellence all four times, receiving high ratings on each occasion. And they have met 100 percent of their performance target measures.
Please join me in recognizing these agencies for their efforts.
It is a great honor to be with you. Our agency heads and board members make the wheels of government churn. You bear a great responsibility, and are held to the highest of expectations by a citizenry that depends on you to meet their needs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sometimes that is a difficult task, and involves an emotional public.
Every time, for instance, I deal with an emergency in this state, I am amazed by the methodical, organized manner with which Tom Millwee, and the folks at the Emergency Management Center with DPS, perform their difficult tasks.
As governor, I sleep better at night knowing that qualified, committed professionals are in place at our various agencies, ready to respond to rapidly changing dynamics…whether it be a natural disaster, an outbreak that affects public health, or a chain of events that impacts a local economy.
You perform your duties with great pride and professionalism. So first, and foremost, I am here to simply say "thanks.”
I am also here to talk about words like “innovation”, “efficiency” and “effectiveness.”
But let me issue a word of warning: some of this efficiency stuff shouldn’t be tried at home.
I heard the other day about an efficiency expert who made that very mistake.
He had been watching his wife’s routine for making breakfast for a number of years. She made a lot of trips between the refrigerator, stove, table and cabinets, often carrying a single item at a time.
One day he said to her, “hon, why don’t you carry several things at once?” He proceeded with a litany of suggestions about how she could make breakfast more efficiently.
He was right, his suggestions saved a lot of time. What took her a whole 20 minutes now only takes him ten.
Sometimes, people who do good work have to be left to do things at their own pace.
I want to pose a question today, a question which I am not here to answer, but which we can work on together over the next several months as an ongoing homework assignment.
And the question is this: “what would government look like if there were no boundaries?” How would you do your jobs differently if there were no restrictions of any nature to impede you from offering the services you are committed to offering?
What statutes would you change to structure your individual agencies in a manner to make them more efficient?
I have served on Appropriations, and it was during some pretty tight fiscal times and required us to make some pretty tough decisions.
I also saw the frustration that bright agency employees had in having to deal with red-tape – with having to deal more with impediments to progress, than actually making progress.
The legislature’s accountability function is critical, and should not be undermined. But it should not be so onerous that it prevents creative minds from crafting creative solutions.
I am a big believer in appointing the right people, and then letting them do their jobs!
I am here today to ask you to push the edge of innovation, and think anew about how to achieve your missions in the public sector.
Over the next several months, I want to work with you on “out of the box” concepts on restructuring your agencies, and improving the services you deliver. I want to encourage a process that allows those ideas to percolate to the top from all levels of your agencies…that utilizes the brainpower and ingenuity that exists in every corner of government.
Innovative ideas may not be a luxury, but a necessity in the years to come. We need to be on the front side of progress, defining change on positive terms, rather than reacting to it on negative terms.
Today as we meet, we know that our state budget is certified as balanced. That budget made investments in critical priorities, such as public education, higher education, health care and transportation.
More students will have scholarship opportunities because of a landmark $300 million expansion of the TEXAS Grant program. Our students will be better grounded in math, and most of them will have to take the college prep curriculum in high school.
We have simplified Medicaid, and increased funding for both Medicaid and CHIP recognizing that our children must not only be educated, but healthy to succeed.
But none of these things will work unless the agencies responsible for implementation are empowered to implement them in a way that serves our citizens best.
We pass a lot of laws in government.… But new laws are just the first step- implementation in many cases is the most critical part.
We are now entering uncertain economic times. As I said earlier, we passed a responsible budget based on conservative economic growth estimates provided by the comptroller. It’s one of the reasons Texas is in better shape than most states.
But we must be sensitive to the prospect of a lagging economy, even if those concerns never materialize.
There is one other thing I would like you to do, in addition to working with my office on ideas for restructuring: on an agency-by-agency basis, we need to carefully look for funds that we can set aside unexpended in the current cycle, and save for the next budget cycle.
If we do encounter tough economic times that force tough budgetary decisions, we will have a head-start because of these precautionary steps. And if the economy picks up, I will make the case to legislators that agencies that set aside funds for a rainy day should be rewarded in the next biennium.
If this economy continues to slow, I can assure you that specific steps will have to be taken to maintain our sound budgetary footing.
That's why I carefully scoured the budget for items to line-item veto, and it is also why I took a strong stand at that time against dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
No one has a crystal ball to peer into the economic future. But in times of economic uncertainty, it is critical that we look at new ways of doing business…new ways to make government more efficient.
Being in the presence of thoughtful men and women who care about this state, I know there is no challenge beyond our grasp…no hurdle we cannot clear if we work together.
Just last week, I returned to South Padre Island for the re-opening of the Queen Isabella Causeway. Those who saw the pictures of the missing bridge spans the morning of that tragedy could have never conceived that the causeway would be repaired in less than 70 days.
They were hoping for a nice Christmas present, and instead, because of the hard work of some of our dedicated agency personnel, and state and local leaders, they had something to be thankful for the day before Thanksgiving.
Our ability to meet the challenges of our day is confined only by the limits of our collective imagination, and our will to make change and progress our ally.
Thank you for your great sacrifices- let’s keep those sleeves rolled up and continue working together on behalf of Texas. Thank you, and God bless you.
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