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From the Secretary's Desk: Scaling New Peaks
(Published: January 10, 2014)

In the Secretary of State's office, the process of evaluating and improving the services we provide is much like trying to reach a new mountain peak. When a peak is reached, the improved perspective from the top allows us to see new possibilities. I am excited about the many challenges our team is preparing to meet as we continue to raise the standard for what Tennesseans can expect from state government.

In the months and years ahead, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to refining our services in order to achieve the maximum effectiveness and efficiency for our customers. While I could name a long list of plans for our department, I would like to focus on only a couple.

First, our Division of Elections is creating an application which will enable voters and election officials to better utilize smart phones to view sample ballots as well as polling location information and directions to polling places. We will also use this application to enhance our current practice of providing real-time reporting of election night results so Tennesseans can enjoy an even better experience when visiting our website.

Another project which has been underway for some time and will take longer to come to fruition is our initiative to reduce the number of forms that must be completed and government offices that must be visited in order to start a business. This project, spearheaded by our general counsel, Mary Beth Thomas, has the potential to have an even broader reach by integrating business filings between state agencies and local governments.

Imagine an entrepreneur visiting our website to begin the process necessary to start a business. Rather than having to interact with multiple state agencies and local governments - filing forms with often redundant information - our goal is to develop a system that would transfer the information we collect to the appropriate state agencies and local governments, or seamlessly route the user to those agencies and local governments when direct interaction is required.

If you've ever completed your taxes electronically, think of how by answering a series of questions, the software program helps you determine what forms you need to complete and even keeps you from filling out the same information over and over. Why isn't government doing the same to remove barriers to starting a business?

This kind of statewide comprehensive retooling will not happen right away. It will require coordination with multiple state agencies, counties, and municipal governments. There will be challenges, but I am persuaded it will be worth the effort.

We pride ourselves in being a pro-business state. This would be yet one more way that we can deliver on our promise to reduce the amount of time and money Tennesseans must spend in the too-often complex rule and regulatory maze of government.

These and many other initiatives are what I refer to as the "guts" of government. Government should not be about having a bunch of meetings and writing a bunch of papers and not getting anything done.

Many of the challenges we face revolve around determining how to create value in each transaction. This includes eliminating transactions that no longer make sense. I am a firm believer that if a process or activity doesn't help a customer, then taxpayers expect us to direct our energies elsewhere.

In the Department of State, our actions don't stop with the analysis of a problem. We want to solve the problem and then move on to the next one. 

While the department has fewer employees and a smaller budget than it did when I took the oath of office five years ago, I am convinced that there are better measures of success for a government agency. One critical measure is the quality of our employees as demonstrated by their adherence to our commitment to our department's core values of collaboration, exceptionalism, integrity, and stewardship. Values I trust are evident with every interaction.

I am proud to work with our staff, and together we are proud to work for you. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2014.