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A fiscal proposal for Gov. Walker

In 1986, in response to another Alaska fiscal crisis, then-Gov. Steve Cowper declared "all bets are off" with respect to his campaign commitments. He and the Legislature believed then, as Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature probably believe now, that they needed to examine every penny in their zeal to cut, cut, cut the state budget. In 1986, options were limited. In 2015, Gov. Walker and his commissioners can look to some of our Lower 48 neighbors for ideas that have worked.

I spoke to the governor twice about visiting Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state to see how their "Lean Government" initiative, titled "Results Washington," started in 2012 by Gov. Christine Gregoire, is helping transform Washington governance. A 2014 Results Washington report announced savings of $5.92 million, $27.4 million in costs avoided and $3.16 million in additional revenue attributable to Results Washington.

The concept of Lean Thinking was developed by Toyota. Yes, the automobile company. Based on two deeply ingrained principles, "Respect for People" and "Continuous Improvement," Toyota developed a culture of outstanding management that overtook every other auto company in the United States. "Total Quality Management," "Just in Time Inventory" and "Business Process Reengineering" were fads that tried to use parts of Toyota's management system, instead of the whole culture. Manufacturing businesses that adopted Lean Thinking as a whole have done very well. In fact, my first experience with Lean Thinking came from a business partner of Sealaska Corporation, Nypro Precision Plastics.

Lean Government uses the principles of Lean Thinking and has been used effectively in Alaska by the Alaska Department of Public Assistance. On Sept. 3, 2011, I blogged about DPA's effort. The Legislature had funded DPA's request for a Lean consultant at the time, and a lengthy report was prepared. I haven't heard about any additional Lean projects within the state.

Iowa, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan and Colorado have all started initiatives for using Lean Government to reduce costs, improve quality and generate additional revenue. Where did this trend start, and is it the newest fad of the day?

The term Lean Government describes adaptation of the "Toyota Production System" for use by governmental entities. Early in my Lean Management career, I became aware of a few government implementations. The City of Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff's Office adopted Lean Government. Former Anchorage Deputy Chief of Police Steve Smith visited Jacksonville to see what Lean Government could achieve for Anchorage. Nothing has been implemented that I am aware of. Iowa started its Lean Initiative under former Gov. Tom Vilsack, who moved on to become U.S. secretary of agriculture. The Los Angeles Police Department also used Lean principles to improve its prisoner intake and processing system with annual savings of at least $1 million. I can cite many more examples.

Our federal government has been slow to adopt lean principles, but the Department of the Army has been engaged in them since at least 2002. Regulations are in place and being used to meet the demands of a modern military. The Environmental Protection Agency has been engaged in Lean Government for years as well.

Lean Government is not a fad. Washington state has help from a number of private-sector Lean Thinking businesses and nonprofits, including Virginia Mason Health Care, Boeing, the University of Washington and Starbucks, among many others. Lean Government is not a fad. It is a pathway to the future.

If the state of Alaska can successfully implement a Lean Initiative, the results could spread to our school districts, the University of Alaska and the private sector and make Alaska more competitive. The spread of Lean Healthcare could help the state deal with its Medicaid and health care funding crisis. The possibilities are tremendous.

Gov. Walker, you have the ball. Give us some hope and counter the budget-cutting talk with a positive initiative to improve services while cutting costs and improving outcomes.

Patrick Anderson has been advocating for the spread of Lean Thinking since 2004. He wrote a blog called "Lean in Alaska" while he was executive director of Chugachmiut, an Alaska Native nonprofit organization.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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