DSHS says Lean principles saved agency $21 million

Efficiency measures widely used in state government, credited with list of improvements

bshannon@theolympian.comFebruary 4, 2014 

The Department of Social and Health Services says it has saved almost $21 million by improving families’ compliance with job-search requirements in welfare programs.

The agency credited “Lean management” — efficiency measures that seek to streamline processes — for the change. Gov. Jay Inslee campaigned on putting Lean principles to use in state government.

DSHS Secretary Kevin Quigley acknowledged that the savings is largely theoretical — based on the state not paying a $20.8 million penalty to the federal government for shortcomings in its Temporary Aid to Needy Families program — and won’t change the state’s current balance sheet.

The TANF program, which provides cash assistance to families with dependent children, has rules requiring beneficiaries to work, attend school or job training sessions, or seek employment. A DSHS spokeswoman was unable to explain what the department is doing differently to ensure more compliance.

“Even if we weren’t forgiven $20.8 million, we made a 17 percent increase in the number of families meeting the workforce participation rate” target, Quigley said in an interview. “It’s part of a much larger exercise to look at Lean across DSHS.”

The agency also reduced its backlog of Child Protective Services investigations that were older than 90 days by 57 percent, or from more than 2,000 cases to fewer than 1,000, DSHS spokesmen said.

That was an issue Quigley brought to Inslee in the Democratic governor’s first month in office last January, and they responded by putting more caseworkers on the job after receiving about $3.6 million last year from the Legislature.

Quigley indicated that improved closure of cases could save lives.

The Lean efforts at DSHS have been going on for more than a year. Lean is the management system pioneered by Toyota in Japan and later used by Boeing, Virginia Mason Health System and other Seattle-area agencies to reduce waste and error and to improve efficiency and morale.

Inslee took his predecessor’s accountability office and renamed it Results Washington, giving it a mission to promote and track efficiency efforts in all agencies.

At DSHS, that meant honing in on the mission of the 16,500-employee agency, which has oversight over everything from welfare programs to juvenile corrections to aging and disability programs, sex predators, alcoholism treatment and vocational rehabilitation.

“For DSHS as a whole, the mission is to transform lives,” Quigley said. “Then each (division) in DSHS puts a finer point on that.”

Rich Roesler, engagement manager for Results Washington, said 14,000 state employees and 5,000 managers have received some training in Lean.

“People are … doing a lot of good work out there,’’ Roesler said. “A lot of it doesn’t get noticed much; it’s process improvement behind the scenes in state government.”

Among Lean victories, the agency says, are:

 • Work by DSHS and the Health Care Authority that cut in half the processing time on recovery of overpayments to medical providers.

 • Work by the Health Care Authority’s customer service center for medical assistance that reduced more than 70 percent of a 400-case backlog of unresolved client complaints about providers.

 • Work by the Office of the Chief Information Officer to create a master mailing-address system now used by 15 agencies that saves money and reduces tax and billing errors.

 • Doubled production in the Yakima sign shop for the Department of Transportation.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com

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