Sunday, October 18, 2009

Developing the Oklahoma Innovation, Efficiency and Accountability Act of 2010

In today's quickly changing world, private businesses are taking advantage of innovative programs such as allowing for employee telecommuting. Because of the ever growing reach of broadband Internet access, many job functions can be performed through the Internet.

One example of this new functionality is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that allows for state of the art telephone functions to be performed online. Another important reason for the rise of telecommuting is the recent expansion of cloud computing (shared computing via the Internet). Because of high speed Internet access, individual workers are not limited to the capabilities of his/her own computer, but can work in a collaborative manner with other employees who are located miles away through the use of shared capabilities afforded by cloud computing. An example of this functionality is the ability of employees to co-edit documents in real time.

As the state government real property infrastructure deteriorates, the state government cannot continue indebting the taxpayers by issuing bonds and debt to build new office structures. It is also cost prohibitive to keep paying rent and utility bills when those expenditures could be avoided with an effective telework program. A recent study by one state agency demonstrated the possible savings of thousands of dollars if just 23 employees participated in a telework pilot program.

This type of program would both necessitate and provide for the opportunity to enact a series of quality control benchmarks to ensure that the quality of work performed via telecommuting does not deteriorate. These benchmarks could include the incorporation of a series of performance auditing indicators which could be used to develop a illustrative cost focused financial reporting system similar to the one envisioned in a recent Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) report.

The OCPA report detailed the benefits to the taxpayers that would be afforded by the production of illustrative financial accounting documents. These documents could be used to compare a service offered by the government to those being offered in the private sector. This could create an important process that forces the government to justify its engagement in any number of activities that could possibly be better performed by the private sector. The performance data set could be posted on the web site allowing Oklahomans to review the work load processed by the government including the ability to drill down to view the work load processed by each individual employee.

The telecommuting program will also serve as a tool for stopping the migration from rural communities into the city. No long will rural residents need to commute to the city in order to provide a service through state government. A similar program in Arizona, where the state recently reached 19.74 percent telework participation rate in Maricopa County, found that not only was the program helpful in travel demand management, it also increased participating state employees’ productivity and improved job attitude because there was a better work environment.

Because cloud computing based technologies are quickly developing and emerging, it is vital for legislative leaders to try to allow for a statutory scheme that encourages state employees to take advantage of these new technologies as soon as possible. All too often, government entities are slow to respond to technological changes and private market best practices. This slow adaptation is expensive in that it unnecessarily wastes millions of taxpayer dollars. I believe it is our job as legislators to be informed of these best practices and it is a moral imperative that we guard taxpayer dollars by applying these innovations as soon as possible.

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