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Officials Vent Frustrations at Government Summit

One of the workshops at this week’s government-efficiency summit gave local leaders a chance to air their frustrations, and it was evident after a few minutes Wednesday that many of their issues were the same as those of their customers.

The two-day summit, organized by Senate President Louis P. Hill, pulled together about 200 leaders within each government department and agency. Hill has said the conference, which started Tuesday at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas, is a collaborative effort of all three branches of government, with Gov. John deJongh Jr. and V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge working alongside.

Along with listening to the various speakers, summit participants have been frequently broken up into discussion groups, which are given specific questions to answer about government efficiency, accountability and effectiveness. The responses collected during these sessions will be, according to organizers, used as a template later on, giving each department and agency a concrete list of areas in which to improve.

Officials were asked Wednesday, for example, what government process frustrates them most, and what process they think frustrates their customers most. Topping the list were concerns about the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and how long it takes to get through lines for registrations and licenses. The solution, many said, was to automate, a project that BMV Director Jerris Browne has said for at least the past year is in the works.

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On the government side, there was also a concern about access — whether it be to financial information or simply logging onto the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. One official said the password to the ERP changes so frequently that they often can’t get on to fill out the daily forms they need for business. The solution offered in that instance, was to change the password every six months and to make sure that the people who really need it can get into the system.

Legislative Post Auditor Jose George was candid about his frustration, simply saying that it’s unacceptable that financial information is not provided by the various departments and agencies on a timely basis. The Legislature’s Post Audit division is tasked every budget season with compiling the financials for the senators to review, and oftentimes, their reports are filled with holes because information they asked for was not submitted.

"This fear of sharing information is the driving force behind the retarded data that we get," he said. "It’s a culture issue that needs to be addressed—everyone wants to be on top of everyone else. But we’re entitled to timely financials."
How information is shared across the government was the overriding theme among the frustrations. Others said it’s not just the financials, it’s all kinds of information, and suggested putting in place websites for those departments and agencies that don’t have them yet and creating a virtual portal for specific items.

Meanwhile, one table of employees said oftentimes only the commissioners get to see everything, and it would be more helpful if some of the information could be put in the hands of the people who actually need it.

Almost everyone that spoke said that while the new ERP still has some glitches, it has significantly improved the workflow in government. At the same time, the system is made up of various models that cost money to roll out, and the current lack of funding is holding up the implementation of some of the more critical components, they said.

Federal budgets for the department and agencies, for example, do appear on the ERP, but the Office of Management and Budget has to manually update the allotments in the system before any money can be drawn down, explained Michal Rhymer-Charles, assistant Human Services commissioner. Sometimes, the process takes a while, which might hold up the spending process, causing departments and agencies to miss the federal deadlines and send back money that could have been used, she added.

Rhymer-Charles said the intent of the system — to keep the departments spending the federal funds before they actually get them — is good, but the manual part of the process cancels out all the effort. The solution is to roll out the federal grants portion of the ERP, but that can’t happen without money, she added.
Summit speaker Todd Sander offered up several models for change to go along with the suggestions, saying that a streamlined and transparent government — one free of fraud — could add up to a whole lot of savings, if officials were serious about making things better.

"If you get rid of the unnecessary payments, the inappropriate payments, things that should never have been done, then you don’t have to do things like raise taxes," he said. "If you’re willing to work on changing assumptions, changing the culture, then that will change people’s behavior. But that change starts with all of you."

On the customer side, many officials said local residents were most likely frustrated by poor service quality standards. And the way to change that, suggested the table made up of representatives from the V.I. Supreme Court, might be to offer webinars on customer service and tie, through the implementation process, a variety of government agencies into the effort.

The University of the Virgin Islands, for example, could roll the webinars into the curriculum, perhaps making it a part of its new hospitality training course, while the Bureau of Information Technology could head up the initiative on the networking, said Elsie-Mae Hodge-King, the court’s director of bar admissions.

The concept of "one government" was also popular, as summit participants stressed Wednesday the importance of cross-training, a unified website and email system, along with a virtual request system for local residents.

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One of the workshops at this week's government-efficiency summit gave local leaders a chance to air their frustrations, and it was evident after a few minutes Wednesday that many of their issues were the same as those of their customers.

The two-day summit, organized by Senate President Louis P. Hill, pulled together about 200 leaders within each government department and agency. Hill has said the conference, which started Tuesday at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas, is a collaborative effort of all three branches of government, with Gov. John deJongh Jr. and V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge working alongside.

Along with listening to the various speakers, summit participants have been frequently broken up into discussion groups, which are given specific questions to answer about government efficiency, accountability and effectiveness. The responses collected during these sessions will be, according to organizers, used as a template later on, giving each department and agency a concrete list of areas in which to improve.

Officials were asked Wednesday, for example, what government process frustrates them most, and what process they think frustrates their customers most. Topping the list were concerns about the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and how long it takes to get through lines for registrations and licenses. The solution, many said, was to automate, a project that BMV Director Jerris Browne has said for at least the past year is in the works.

On the government side, there was also a concern about access -- whether it be to financial information or simply logging onto the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. One official said the password to the ERP changes so frequently that they often can't get on to fill out the daily forms they need for business. The solution offered in that instance, was to change the password every six months and to make sure that the people who really need it can get into the system.

Legislative Post Auditor Jose George was candid about his frustration, simply saying that it’s unacceptable that financial information is not provided by the various departments and agencies on a timely basis. The Legislature's Post Audit division is tasked every budget season with compiling the financials for the senators to review, and oftentimes, their reports are filled with holes because information they asked for was not submitted.

"This fear of sharing information is the driving force behind the retarded data that we get," he said. "It's a culture issue that needs to be addressed—everyone wants to be on top of everyone else. But we're entitled to timely financials."
How information is shared across the government was the overriding theme among the frustrations. Others said it's not just the financials, it's all kinds of information, and suggested putting in place websites for those departments and agencies that don't have them yet and creating a virtual portal for specific items.

Meanwhile, one table of employees said oftentimes only the commissioners get to see everything, and it would be more helpful if some of the information could be put in the hands of the people who actually need it.

Almost everyone that spoke said that while the new ERP still has some glitches, it has significantly improved the workflow in government. At the same time, the system is made up of various models that cost money to roll out, and the current lack of funding is holding up the implementation of some of the more critical components, they said.

Federal budgets for the department and agencies, for example, do appear on the ERP, but the Office of Management and Budget has to manually update the allotments in the system before any money can be drawn down, explained Michal Rhymer-Charles, assistant Human Services commissioner. Sometimes, the process takes a while, which might hold up the spending process, causing departments and agencies to miss the federal deadlines and send back money that could have been used, she added.

Rhymer-Charles said the intent of the system -- to keep the departments spending the federal funds before they actually get them -- is good, but the manual part of the process cancels out all the effort. The solution is to roll out the federal grants portion of the ERP, but that can't happen without money, she added.
Summit speaker Todd Sander offered up several models for change to go along with the suggestions, saying that a streamlined and transparent government -- one free of fraud -- could add up to a whole lot of savings, if officials were serious about making things better.

"If you get rid of the unnecessary payments, the inappropriate payments, things that should never have been done, then you don't have to do things like raise taxes," he said. "If you're willing to work on changing assumptions, changing the culture, then that will change people's behavior. But that change starts with all of you."

On the customer side, many officials said local residents were most likely frustrated by poor service quality standards. And the way to change that, suggested the table made up of representatives from the V.I. Supreme Court, might be to offer webinars on customer service and tie, through the implementation process, a variety of government agencies into the effort.

The University of the Virgin Islands, for example, could roll the webinars into the curriculum, perhaps making it a part of its new hospitality training course, while the Bureau of Information Technology could head up the initiative on the networking, said Elsie-Mae Hodge-King, the court's director of bar admissions.

The concept of "one government" was also popular, as summit participants stressed Wednesday the importance of cross-training, a unified website and email system, along with a virtual request system for local residents.