New Hampshire’s state government must be transformed

A new COO would bring more efficiency, innovation

The Governor’s Commission on Innovation, Efficiency, and Transparency – on which we both served with 16 leaders from the business, nonprofit, higher education and state and local government sectors – was empaneled to better understand and to improve the way state government operates. Our charge was to address the way state government operates, not the essential political task of deciding what state government does.

Two observations became clear quickly in our deliberations. First, doing things the same old way – with even fewer resources and just lower expenses – will not make New Hampshire’s state government more efficient or produce better results for the citizens of New Hampshire. Rather, managing via momentum will merely extend and deepen the state’s fiscal distress, accelerate pressures to reduce services, and further strain the state’s workforce.

Second, there is no silver bullet – no single action that will deliver the government of the future that the citizens of the state deserve.

So the commission proposed a series of changes – some small and others quite significant – that, taken together, would begin to transform the way New Hampshire’s state government operates: its operating structure, processes and culture.

The foundation for all the commission’s recommendations is the appointment of a chief operating officer for the executive branch, reporting to the governor with appropriate responsibility, resources and authority to drive innovation, efficiency and transparency.

Why this action? Why this investment? Because transforming the actions of an institution as large and complex as the executive branch requires dedicated senior management to focus on operations.

The incumbent must be someone that most senior executives in the branch will regard as a peer, someone who can be an effective junior partner to the governor and earn the trust and confidence of the Legislature and Executive Council.

It requires the expertise to bring a seasoned financial, operating and technology perspective to the decisions of the executive branch. It will require an executive capable of making investment decisions to drive innovation and yet also stimulate innovation from the people who really do the work.

It will require the diplomatic skills to enable the executive branch to capture economies across departments and agencies. It will require the skill to broaden the branches’ nearly exclusive focus on expense control to also include results and resource productivity.

In short, it must be someone capable of driving specific innovative efforts and also capable of beginning to transform the culture of the executive branch.

True, this is no “free lunch.” This is an investment built on the pragmatic assumption that dedicating senior operating management to innovation, efficiency and transparency will produce significant returns.

Even a one hundredth of 1 percent annual improvement in efficiency driven by this effort will more than pay for the investment. The proof, of course, will be in the results, which should be closely monitored by the governor, the Executive Council and the Legislature.

It is clear from our work on the commission that ample opportunities exist. Yet they are not being realized. If nothing changes in the operation of state government, they won’t be.

Some will argue that now is not the time, that current fiscal constraints are just too severe. We would argue that now is precisely the time, because without significant change in the way state government operates, the fiscal pressure will continue to spiral upward and operating performance will drift lower.

Eric Herr was chair of the Governor’s Commission on Innovation, Efficiency, and Transparency. Ed DuPont, a member of the commission, is president of the DuPont Group and a former president of the New Hampshire Senate.

Categories: Opinion