I like to think that good governance and efficiency are things we can all agree have value. Too often we hear about what doesn’t work without looking at the things that do. One positive example comes from a discussion my office had recently with some state social workers in Beaverton. The result is an example of government working like it ought to.

Some people have the impression that, for people who work with the state, efficiency is not a priority. Indeed we’re often told that these folks are disengaged and provide no value to taxpayers.

The truth of the matter is that to them, as for all of us, efficiency does matter. This is an ethic I understand quite well, as an entrepreneur, and I see it reflected in the many professionals who work for the state of Oregon. We all understand, public servants included, that in a time of shrinking budgets and increased need, efficiency in the delivery of government services is vital. One of the challenges we have as legislators is striking the balance between being detail-oriented leaders while still empowering state employees to enact changes that improve efficiency and productivity. This is what drives competitiveness in private business and its introduction to the public sector can, with a strong impulse toward altruism, help to improve vital services for the people of Oregon.

It was with this in mind that I was happy to get an invitation a few months ago from front-line workers at the Department of Human Services Aging and People with Disabilities Office in Beaverton to discuss their thoughts on how they could be more productive and efficient in their jobs. Even though these workers were managing high caseloads as a result of budget cuts and hiring freezes, what was most frustrating for them was a few computer issues that made it difficult for them to do right by their clients.

Workers at the APD Office are responsible for ensuring some of the most vulnerable Oregonians understand their long-term care choices. They advocate for clients’ rights, and attempt to guarantee our seniors and people with disabilities are safe and cared for in their living situations. These public employees are serving our families and our loved ones through their work but, due to substandard office equipment, efforts to meet the needs of their clients at the APD Office in Beaverton had nearly come to a standstill. This was negatively impacting their clients’ quality of life while increasing the number of hours required for each case.

Frustration was high because individual cases would take upwards of three hours to upload into the system, causing caseworkers to lose critical work time and causing a disturbing degradation of service. Their system was slow and they needed someone with the background and knowledge to actually provide solutions. Meeting with staff and clarifying the details surrounding the issues was essential; the discussion brought up one awful story after another of increased workloads and impacted outcomes. They were essentially working harder and longer and getting less done for fewer people.

This is why they called me in. Having a background in technology, I understand the relationships between hardware and software, broadband speed and the ability to be effective in one’s job. Since that meeting, we have increased their data capacity so more seniors and the disabled are being cared for quickly and efficiently. This investment allows each caseworker to handle a larger portion of the workflow, helping more people receive the care they need.

I, along with my fellow legislators, will be working to implement more of these changes in the months ahead. These ideas are borne out of a deep understanding that cooperation between workers and the Legislature, in APD offices around the state, empowers Oregon agencies to be their best. Often information technology is not thought of as having a human impact within our communities, but I’m passionate about technology because I know the possibilities, the cost savings, and the ways that lives can be improved when we provide up-to-date technology so our state workers can do their jobs.

What we can take away from this is that infrastructure and cooperation are the building blocks for the success of any organization. Empowering state employees to bring problems to the fore is a means for increasing productivity, efficiency and lowering costs over the long-term. I believe Oregon’s workers are a resource that can provide Oregon with a strategic advantage. This is the lesson I’ve taken away from meeting with these social workers as well as from my two decades of running my own business.

State Rep. Chris Harker is seeking re-election to House District 34.

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