Facing a mammoth budget shortfall the past three years and having to either raise taxes or cut services, or both, Oklahoma leaders have faced increased criticism from state business leaders and residents for not resolving the problem.
In some cases, state officials have decided to turn to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement to make long-term changes in how state departments are run. While it might not bail them out of the current crisis, state leaders hope the initiative will fundamentally change how some state operations are run.
It’s a needed change in state in the midst of a budget crisis.
“I know Oklahomans are as frustrated as I am with the bleak outlook for our state budget,” Preston L. Doerflinger, the director of the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), wrote in a column for The Oklahoman.
Doerflinger wrote that state officials should turn to Lean Six Sigma as they are “faced with no other choice but to find ways to become more efficient and reduce spending.”
Oklahoma is facing one of the hardest budget challenges in the United States. Brought on by a drop in the oil and gas industry that provides both jobs and tax revenue to the state, the state faces an about $215 million budget shortfall.
State leaders have had to make tough choices this year, including the following.
- Facing a $10 million shortfall, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) requires every employee who makes more than $35,000 to take an unpaid day off every two-week pay period. The agency also plans to offer buyouts to a number of employees.
- The DHS also has cut an adult services program that provides safe care for older, frail adults, many of them with disabilities, as well as a program to provide care for such individuals in their homes.
- In schools, students in some areas go without textbooks, art and foreign-language programs have been reduced or eliminated and, in some districts, kids go to school just four days a week.
It’s so tough in Oklahoma that lawmakers who belong to the usually anti-tax Republican Party have voted for tax increases. In Oklahoma, lawmakers agreed on raising the cigarette tax, but the state Supreme Court struck the proposed tax down as unconstitutional.
Lean Six Sigma Success
Against this backdrop, some state agencies in Oklahoma have implemented Lean Six Sigma methodology to reduce waste and make government operations more efficient.
The success stories include:
- The OMES has trained 50 people in Lean, and also launched a Six Sigma project that resulted in consolidating IT services for 74 state agencies, saving millions of dollars.
- The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board changed its workflow involving documentation for cases, with preparation time dropping from four weeks to just two days.
- The DHS Aging Services Division used Lean methodology to reduce error and fraud in billing services.
Sustaining this type of success and fully committing to Lean Six Sigma will prove the hardest part for many state agencies. However, given the dire situation in Oklahoma, many have found the tested methods recommended by Lean Six Sigma may offer a way to not only help the state out of its budget crisis but also keep it from getting into a another one down the road.