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My view: Utah state agencies work for the people

By Jon S. Pierpont

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

DWS measures success not by dollars earned, but by citizens and taxpayers served. We will continue to stand as an example of good governance and efficient customer service as we support Utah’s economic engine and prosperity.

Brian Nicholson

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When it comes to running government programs, the federal government ought to do what the State of Utah does: focus on efficiency, effectiveness and customer service. As a result of an ongoing commitment to operational excellence, Utah’s Department of Workforce Services (DWS) is turning heads throughout the nation as we serve Utah’s citizens.

For example, both our unemployment insurance division and myCase online customer service portal have won national awards for quality and innovation. The recognition is evidence of the hard work behind the scenes to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars, and provide better services to those taxpayers.

A recent op-ed addressed past changes surrounding the state’s Medicaid program and a subsequent audit. Fortunately, in retrospect we see the benefit of those decisions. When DWS consolidated Medicaid eligibility determination for all temporary assistance programs, the total cost per decision decreased from about $57 in 2009 to $33 today.

That means greater efficiency than ever before — ultimately saving taxpayer dollars and serving our customers more effectively.

Those Great Recession-induced innovations were a response to skyrocketing caseloads amidst severe budget cuts. DWS, under the talented leadership of former Executive Director Kristen Cox, not only weathered the recession, but emerged more efficient and effective. From 2008 to 2013, the DWS public assistance caseload grew from 121,000 to more than 180,000 cases, and yet DWS reduced operational costs from $80 million to $57 million. Furthermore, program accuracy has dramatically improved and our use of state general funds reduced from $79.4 million in 2009 to $60.8 million in 2013.

Since my appointment as executive director, DWS has focused on four essential principles: operational excellence, exceptional customer service, employee success and community connection. These cornerstones guide the work of our agency and focus on the priorities of public service.

The staff at DWS works hard serving the needs of Utahns — and they do it well. This past September, for instance, DWS served over one million Utahns through our online portal, over the phone or in our offices. Of those served, only 98 had unresolved concerns about our service (less than 1/10 of 1 percent).

DWS has also helped countless Utahns stabilize their financial situation and find employment. In 2013, more than 12,000 veterans found jobs through our services. Roughly 7,000 companies filled open jobs through our online job board. And since January, more than 26,000 Utah households moved from public assistance to employment.

Much like many organizations in the private sector, DWS emerged from the recession leaner and more effective. And, just like the private sector, we will continue to innovate and improve. Yet, despite our similarities, at the end of the day, DWS is not a private organization.

The DWS helps Utahns stabilize their financial situation and find employment. Our focus is not the bottom line, but the front line: the hundreds of thousands of Utahns who struggle to make ends meet every day. Navigating the turbulent waters of economic uncertainty can be daunting, whether you’re a young family, small business or an individual trying to find your place in this economy.

DWS measures success not by dollars earned, but by citizens and taxpayers served. We will continue to stand as an example of good governance and efficient customer service as we support Utah’s economic engine and prosperity.

Jon S. Pierpont is executive director at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

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