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State employees present ways to make Missouri more efficient

by Ryan Pivoney | September 18, 2021 at 4:05 a.m. | Updated September 18, 2021 at 9:49 a.m.
Julie Smith/News Tribune Staff from the Missouri Department of Revenue's Drivers License Bureau in the Harry S. Truman State Office Building are interviewed after presenting ideas to a panel about how to improve efficiency for customers. They were part of the Show Me Challenge Friday, an opportunity in which state employees put forth their ideas to help with office or client efficiency.

Outdoor leave hours, 3D printing and a focus on digital offerings were all ideas frontline staff pitched to improve Missouri government efficiency.

Seven teams, made up of state employees from various state agencies, competed Friday in the Office of Administration's annual Show Me Challenge.

Teams of state employees, sometimes from a single department or a collaboration among multiple, presented ideas for how to make the government more internally and externally efficient to a group of panelists.

The program launched in 2019 and is wrapping up its fifth cycle.

In its first three cycles, more than 500 state employees from across the state pitched more than 100 proposals on a variety of topics.

This year's five-person judging panel featured department leaders from the Department of Revenue, the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Office of Administration.

They will announce the competition winner Monday.

First to present was "Okay Google: Show Me Traffic Hazards" a suggestion from a Department of Public Safety team to have Missouri Highway Patrol officers responding to traffic crashes report the incident on Google Maps.

Google Maps alerts drivers when there is an incident disrupting regular traffic flow and automatically reroutes. These notifications are dependent on drivers reporting the crash on the app.

To provide more accurate data to drivers and reduce the state's number of secondary crashes, the team suggested having the Patrol's IT department report crashes and when they are cleared to Google Maps in real time as officers report back to the department.

"We're getting those emergency calls right away, so we can enter it into Google right away," said Eugenia Howe, a patrol officer and the group's team lead. "We're already looking at those screens so we're not asking someone to remove their eyes from the roadway. We're waiting for updates from our troopers, and we know when it's clear so we can enter it right away."

The team chose Google Maps because it is the most common community-driven navigation app, and it owns Waze, another common navigation app.

The team found no cost associated with implementing the idea and has already started discussions with other departments, like the Missouri Department of Transportation, about implementing it for other road conditions.

The next team was "OA Document Solutions," from the Office of Administration, which suggested a digital overhaul of the state's incoming mail and documents.

Using high capacity scanners with artificial intelligence software, OA would digitalize the state's historic and current documents to make them more accessible by employees from anywhere and help reduce high costs and delays associated with maintaining current paper processes.

Amanda Toebben, an employee of the State Printing Center and team member, pointed back to Jefferson City's recent natural disasters, like the tornado and blizzard of 2019 and COVID-19 pandemic, as a reason why the change would be beneficial.

"All of this has revealed to us, and I'm sure you as well, that our paper processes have put us in a bad spot," team member Travis Rhegan said. "Amanda's going to help us get ahead of this problem and teach us how to disaster-proof our paper processes."

State agencies have already completed a survey asking about their needs for the digital transition and the project is ready to pilot by January.

The OA presentation was followed by "Motor Vehicle and Driver License Electronic Notifications" from the Department of Revenue, which pitched the idea to implement an electronic notification system to remind Missourians about renewal requirements.

Addressing the consumer need for more streamlined departmental correspondence and a large amount of mail being returned to the department, the department would offer an email and text messaging option that citizens can sign up for online.

The electronic system would be used to remind people about renewals for vehicle, boat, trailer, ATV and disabled placards, and nondriver license and driver license renewals.

"The paper, as we know, sometimes gets lost in the mail so there's a big benefit to getting that document immediately to do whatever process they need to with the Department of Revenue," team member Lexi Holt said. "Many of those are cost-saving, time-saving for the department, which is what we're looking at trying to do, making those processes better for our citizens as well as the department."

The group said it is expecting the electronic notification system to reduce mailing costs by 30 percent and subscribers could switch between paper and electronic communication as they wish.

"Fostering Foundations," a team from the Department of Social Services, suggested the department use a centralized website and current foster homes to address the state's foster home shortage.

Missouri has 14,107 children in foster care, but only 2,795 foster homes in the state. At any given point, there are 135 children in emergency home placements, which only last 30-60 days.

"If we can increase foster homes we can save the state of Missouri up to half a million dollars in just two months and up to $3 million in just one year," team member Tara Patterson said. "And the heartbreak and trauma it can save our kids is immeasurable."

The group suggested the department use current foster homes, who report getting questions about how to get others started in the process, and a website with centralized materials and a registration form for potential new foster parents to complete.

After the registration is complete, individuals would be sent an information packet via email and concrete next steps.

Team lead Lauren Masterson said the experience of presenting the idea in the Show Me Challenge was exhilarating.

"At this point for us, it's really not about winning, it's just about really moving forward some solutions that are going to positively impact our children and families," Masterson said.

The next team was "A New Dimension in Laboratory Supplies" from the Department of Health and Senior Services, which suggested the department begin 3D printing replacement laboratory supplies using recycled plastic waste.

Lab grade plastic supplies have become more difficult to find since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group said, and the department produced 1,500 pounds of plastic waste last year.

With $37,470 in new equipment, the department could use its plastic waste to become more self-sufficient by producing some of its own materials and save the state thousands of dollars each year.

Within a few years, the initial investment would be paid for by the savings from not purchasing replacement materials.

The project could be expanded to other areas of state government to reduce costs and waste, such as Missouri Vocational Enterprises and other state laboratories, the group said.

"Bloom Busters," from the Department of Natural Resources, DHSS, OA and the Department of Conservation, suggested the state develop an app to report and track blue-green algae outbreaks around the state.

The algae is deadly to animals and toxic to humans, but the current process for reporting the presence of the algae in a body of water usually takes up to three days.

With an app, the department would have instantaneous citizen reports and could confirm the algae presence more quickly with a back end dashboard of centralized data. The app would also have a map showing where outbreaks are around the state.

"Currently, when we receive a report like this they're managed through numerous emails and phone calls. This results in an average of eight emails to 16 different staff members and takes approximately 30 hours of staff time across state agencies," team member Lynn Milberg said. "Without the delays of all those pesky emails, staff time can be reduced by more than 75 percent."

Missouri Department of Conservation's "Outdoor Boost for MOForce" team pitched the idea to increase state workforce motivation and enthusiasm by implementing an outdoor leave.

The leave would provide state employees 16 hours of leave time each year to spend outside with a fellow employee, which would help keep each other accountable.

Studies show spending time outdoors improves an individual's mood, reduces heart rate and can improve productivity, the group said.

The new leave would require the support and approval of the Missouri Legislature, but the team said it's a more favorable option than more flexible leave options or spending money to bring live plants to indoor areas.

After judge deliberation and feedback is provided to each group, OA will announce the winning group Monday.

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