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Finding Ways to Do More With Less Is Job No. 1 for Arkansas' New Chief Transformation Officer

Amy Fecher, the state's first chief transformation officer, said she'll work with agencies statewide to boost efficiency and improve use of technology.

Two details about Arkansas' first-ever chief transformation officer Amy Fecher, who was appointed Monday by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, say a lot about her mission of helping state agencies do more with less.

First, Fecher isn't taking a salary in her new position — one she'll hold as she works concurrently as executive vice president of operations for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and as the governor's designee to the Delta Regional Authority.

And second, she heads a department of just one: herself — a move aimed at dispelling any notions of shrinking other areas of bureaucracy while simultaneously creating more of the same. She'll work with the governor's staff and members of agencies statewide, but her office is an army of one.

"The governor felt it was important and shows ... if he’s asking state agencies to find efficiencies, he wants to do the same and lead from the top down in that regard," Fecher told Government Technology shorty after Hutchinson announced the creation of the Office of Transformation and named her as its leader.

Since his inauguration Jan. 13, 2015, Hutchinson has emphasized economic development and job creation, creating more than 56,000 jobs statewide; a focus on computer science, now required to be taught in all high schools; and governmental efficiency and transformation.

Creating an Office of Transformation to tackle redundancies and outdated procedures, and bring agencies into modern practice has been a priority for the governor since the beginning, said Fecher, who described it as "a big step in taking the next leap into efficiency and what that will mean to the state of Arkansas."

"Increasing efficiencies to conserve state resources is the best way to return money to the pockets of hard-working taxpayers and deliver better state services to Arkansans," Hutchinson said Wednesday in a statement.

One thing it most likely won't mean is layoffs. State Communications Director J.R. Davis said Hutchinson's first Executive Order was a hiring freeze and scrutiny of every position to be filled. Arkansas has shed around 1,100 jobs or around 4 percent of the state workforce statewide since, but through attrition.

Davis compared state agencies to the private sector.

"If you look at retailers or you look at online business, you have to constantly adapt or today’s practices are completely out of date by the next day. The governor sees the state that way as well," Davis said, noting the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority and its Department of Rural Services merged into the AEDC,  and the state lottery's merged into the Department of Finance and Administration.

Doing so saved money on resources and leasing, and eliminated duplication, he said.

As she looks for efficiencies in her new role, Fecher will be guided by the Arkansas Efficiency Project, a new report from the nonprofit Arkansas Policy Foundation. It surveyed state agencies and identified 60 potential efficiencies that could save taxpayers more than $50 million.

Fecher said she'll meet next week with report author Greg Kaza, as well as with Yessica Jones, who was named interim director of the Department of Information Services (DIS) last week after the resignation of DIS Director Mark Myers.

"There are a lot of low-hanging fruit in that report. One thing is just having every state agency look at prioritizing efficiencies within their agency. But we want them not only to list the specific word in their mission statement, we want to make sure they’re walking the talk and finding the efficiencies," she said.

Fecher and Davis emphasized Myers' departure is in no way connected to the creation of Fecher's new position.

Fecher said she sees Jones' position as continuing to look at technology issues, while the Transformation Officer will examine "processes across state government as far as people and positions." but these, too, may involve an increased reliance on technology.

Residents have suggested migrating key transactions online, including renewing driver's licenses and paying for vehicle registrations and vehicle sales tax, all of which the state will contemplate.

Other potential changes include making the state's internal signature process electronic, and rolling out e-procurement — previously tested with a few agencies — statewide. Some agencies, Fecher said, still use paper for purchase orders and time-off requests.

Another likely effort, Davis said, will be migrating data to one centralized data center. Currently many, but not all, state agencies utilize the DIS data center.

"We would benefit greatly by having an all-in-one approach," he said.

The governor will release a statewide strategic plan next year. And by July 1, the start of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Fecher said agencies may be required to create their own strategic plans and identify efficiencies that can be achieved.

"I believe that’s very doable for many state agencies to identify efficiencies that can be carried into the next fiscal year by July 1," she said, noting the process statewide "will look very different from agency to agency so it’s hard to set a timeline."

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.