A year ago Pam Lowe was making another transition. She was named director of the transportation department in December 2006 and officially assumed the duties in early January. Lowe made similar transitions from staff engineer to district engineer to division administrator, to deputy director.
The transition has not ceased.
It has touched many of the department’s key administrative positions, including the divisions of Aeronautics, Administration and Public Transportation, all of which welcomed new administrators the past 12 months. The ripple effect brought similar change to key positions within the department, including two new district engineers, Controller and Chief Technology Officer. The changes introduce new ideas, priorities and energy.
ITD administrative leaders evaluated the department's operations to determine how innovation can lead to greater efficiency. The thorough analysis led to an efficiency report that may serve as a model for other state agencies and other departments of transportation.
The comprehensive efficiency report brought ITD’s strong history of efficient operation into clear focus and will help policy makers understand the funding crisis looming ahead, not only in Idaho but nationwide.
As Lowe ponders the department’s progress over the past 12 months, she points to the efficiency measures and a concluding report issued in November as some of the greatest accomplishments. Not that efficiency is unique. ITD began tracking operational efficiencies in the mid-90s, but elevated it to new prominence in 2007, partly in response to a challenge by the Gov. Otter and legislators in the waning days of the last session.
“We’ve always been very frugal and our employees are innovative and loyal,” Lowe says. “But we have not done as well as we can to communicate those efficiencies to legislators, the governor, even to ourselves. The efficiency report contains some amazing accomplishments that need to be shared, both within the department and outside. We need to learn from ourselves and make all of us more aware of what is happening in other districts.”
Work on the report began before Gov. Otter emphasized the need for ITD to demonstrate good stewardship of public resources last fall. As a result of the report, the governor is better positioned to ask the 2008 Legislature for revenue increases.
“I think the governor is satisfied that we have really looked at every reasonable way of operating efficiently and are saving as much money as we can. He agrees that we need additional funds, and that is extremely important.”
The report is an outward display of what is taking place internally. ITD made a number of major strides to streamline processes and save resources in the past year.
After hearing a report from Missouri on the use of new design techniques to further cut project costs without compromising quality and safety, Lowe brought the concept of Practical Design to ITD. She presented the report by Missouri Chief Engineer Kevin Keith at an ITD design conference last spring, brought Keith to Idaho to explain firsthand how it works, and challenged all ITD districts to embrace Practical Design last summer.
It’s a decentralized approach to project design that gives districts discretion over many of the design decisions to use innovative approaches and tailor projects to their context rather than national standards that don’t logically fit.
A professional team of ITD engineers and representatives of the Associated General Contractors identified 25 new strategies on materials testing and inspection that will save resources. At the same time, it will strengthen the relationship ITD has with the contracting community.
ITD began looking forward in 2007 by producing an interim strategic plan at mid-year and creating the foundation for a new comprehensive plan to be introduced in 2008. The first outcome of that process emerged this month in the form of a new mission and vision statement for ITD. (See related story.)
The mission statement, approved Dec. 19 by the transportation board, is succinct and straightforward:
“Our Mission: Your Mobility.”
The mission will become the foundational principle for four quality management teams that recently drafted individual charters and will produce action plans early in 2008. Those plans will be incorporated into a new ITD Strategic Plan that will be forwarded to the transportation board for approval in June and then to the governor’s office.
There is more to do, Lowe suggests. What ITD accomplished in 2007 is just the beginning of new approaches and exciting results. The department will continue to expand and improve its culture of efficiency and service.
"With inflation and rising construction costs eroding the department's buying power, and with growth placing even greater demands on transportation, the challenge has never been greater," the director said. "We will continue to emphasize service and efficiency as we build trust and respect, both from policy makers and the public."
“This has been a very rewarding year,” Lowe says, “and really is just the beginning of great things that we will accomplish as a department in the future.”