E-Government – The Singapore Experience

An African proverb admonishes us that: “Whenever the rhythm of the drum beats changes, you must change the dance movement accordingly.”

It is no longer privileged knowledge that Information and Communication Technology has launched the entire globe into what is now known as the e-world-meaning electronic world. Today Governments the world over are somersaulting to reinvent and re-engineer governance so as to be more effective, efficient and transparent in the provision of information, goods and services to their citizens electronically.

Fortunately Ghana has already started dancing to the tune of the technological music because government has laid the foundation for e-government by establishing the government of Ghana website popularly referred to as Ghana Portal which is being managed by the Information Services Department of the Ministry of Information in Accra. Government has also established the Ghana-India Kofi Anan IT Centre of Excellence and above all, Ghana has formulated an Information Communication Technology framework for accelerated development, being spearheaded by the Ministry of Communications.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the practicability, accessibility and usability of e-government services by citizens, Ghana still has some mountains to climb and some rivers and lagoons to wade through. It is against this backdrop that this writer deems it relevant to share the Singapore e-government experience with fellow Ghanaians. But, even before shedding some light on e-government strategies and implementations in Singapore, it may be necessary to explain what e-government is in the first place.

On Saturday July 31 this year, at the Johannesburg Airport in South Africa, this writer came across a group of Ghanaians on their way to Zimbabwe to take part in a book fair in that country. Then in a chart with one of them, where it was revealed that I was on my way from Singapore where I underwent a short training course in e-government, my interlocutor exclaimed:

‘Eeeee-Government!’ “What is that animal, too?” he virtually shouted unconsciously.

As a matter of fact, my friend confessed that, he was hearing for the first time the term e-government. Later when we parted company and he went to Zimbabwe and I was airborne to Ghana, I started debating with my inner self: “If this man, well-educated, living in the capital city of Accra, participating in an international event such as a book fair, has not yet heard of the term e-government until then, then what happens to the majority of uneducated and less fortunate brothers and sisters dwelling in deprived rural communities of the country?

Because we are living in a world of Knowledge Management (KM) and Experience Sharing, I cannot claim to be an expert in this field, but the little I know about e-government must be shared with others for the benefit of all who care to know; for the advancement of mankind and to the glory of the Divine Intelligence or the First Giver of knowledge itself.

The question is: What is E-government? The United Nations defines e-Government as “Permanent commitment by government to improve the relationship between the private citizen and the public sector through enhanced, cost-effective and efficient delivery of services, information and knowledge.” It went further to explain that there are five categories of measuring a country’s “e-gov” progress in terms of Web Presence. This includes: Emerging – Enhanced – Interactive – Transactional and Fully Integrated. All UN member states have been called upon and encouraged to embark on this e-government project and programme.

Accordingly the world body has a way of assessing the progress of each country in this regard. Significantly in the UN Report for this year on e-government globally, Singapore, a small Island City State of Land- Area of 697.1sq km with a population of 4.185 million souls is sharing the 2nd position with the mighty United States of America with Canada comfortably sitting on top of all.

How did Singapore make it to the top of e-government league table of the world? What strategies and policies were put in place; when and how did that country achieve such a technological feat over and above the super powers of this planet of economic inequalities?

Computerisation

Singapore set off on its e-government journey as far back as about 25 years ago. In 1981, Singapore embarked upon a computerization programme of the government machinery. It first established a National Computer Board and National Computerisation Plan. The Plan was to ensure a systematic growth of local IT industry; Development of IT manpower pool; Civil Service Computerisation Plan and the production of 850 IT Professionals.

National IT Plan

After the Computerisation programme, the Singapore government embarked upon what was referred to as the National IT Plan. The National IT Plan initiated what was known as the Beginnings of Computing Communications Convergence. It also constituted what was dubbed Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which was basically aimed at bridging Government and industry. This plan took place in 1986 that is five years or so after the Computerisation Programme.

IT 2000 Blueprint for Intelligence Island

This Blueprint strategy that also started over five years after the
National IT Plan in 1992 was to effect what was called Flagship Projects on the Singapore Island. It had the objectives to create an electronic network linking all libraries in that country; secure infrastructure for e-commerce; Expert system for checking all building plans in the country and above all to establish Singapore ONE, that is, to create one network for everyone in Singapore. It was this strategy that shot Singapore up to the position of the world’s first nationwide broadband infrastructure nation in the e-world.

Infocomm 2001

The next step Singapore took, after attaining a nationwide broadband infrastructure, was to launch what was dubbed Infocomm 2001. This project was launched in year 2000 and aimed at developing Singapore into a vibrant and dynamic global information communication capital, with a thriving and prosperous e-Economy, and a pervasive and “Infocomm-savvy” e-Society and full telecom liberalisation in that country.

Connected Singapore

In 2003, Singapore government launched the final onslaughts on its e-government programme by establishing what was simply known as Connected Singapore. This strategy was to unleash the potential for the total realisation of all e-government possibilities through the Info comm project of the country.

Briefly, the preceding steps known in Singapore as the five (5) National Strategic ICT Plans give us an overview of the method Singapore adopted to become the 2nd e-Nation in the e-World today behind Canada. The Singapore government has a philosophy that: “Whatever services that can be delivered electronically must be delivered electronically” Period.

Another African proverb reminds us that, “If your tormentor who is running after you does not stop, you, too, must not stop running.” As long as Ghana remains a developing country, Ghanaians must not stop fighting to develop and progress.

In the first part of this article the definition of e-Government according to the United Nations was provided. Singapore government used the UN definition of e-Government as a guide, but simplified it for easy understanding by ordinary person in the street.

According to Singapore, e-Government is the use of technology to
enhance the access to and delivery of government services to benefit citizens and businesses. It pointed out that the beneficiaries of e- Government include the government itself, businesses and the citizens of the country concerned.

How did the Singapore Government use technology to enhance access to and delivery of government information and services to the people? E-Government Action Plan II (2003-2006) In order to achieve its stated goals the Singapore government formulated an action plan known as e-Government Action Plan II for the year 2003 to 2006.The vision of the Government was to be a leading e- Government to better serve the nation in the digital economy.

The objective of this Plan was to ensure “a Networked Government
that delivers accessible, integrated, value-added e-services to our customers; and helps bring citizens closer together”. A slogan was developed thus: e-Government- Delighting Customers, Connecting Citizens.

What are some of the services that the Singapore Government provides for its customers who are the citizens of the country? Even before we touch on some of the services provided online, shall we find out why Singapore government came to the realization that the beneficiaries of e-Government include Government, businesses and citizens?

It is important to note that within the scope of e-Government, there are several categories that fit into the broad definition of e-Government. For example, e-Government constitutes: A Government- to-Citizens (G2C); B- Government-to-Business (G2B); C- Government-to-Employees (G2E); and eventually D-Government to- Government (G2G).

G2C: Government-to-Citizens, according to experts, includes all the interactions between a government and its citizens that can take place electronically. The objective of G2C is to offer citizens faster, more responsive, more convenient and less complicated means to public services.

G2B: In the case of Government-to-Business, it refers to e-commerce in which government sells to businesses or provides them with services, as well as businesses selling products and services to government. Again the objective of G2B is to enable businesses to interact, transact and communicate with government online, with greater speed and convenience.

G2E: Government-to-Employees includes activities and services between government units and their employees. As the term implies, the objective of G2E is to develop and cultivate IT capabilities among government employees to deliver efficient and cost-effective services.

G2G: Interestingly, Government-to-Government seems to have dual significance. One, G2G is said to consist of activities between government and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the same government.

The other meaning of G2G is a situation in which Governments have to deal with their other counterpart governments of different countries. This second G2G in the opinion of experts is anchored on trust and interdependence, which allows for information sharing among governments on regional, sub-regional and international issues.

For example, the control of terrorism; the management of cross border diseases like SARS, which occurred in Asia some time ago or even HIV/AIDS. This G2G also has to do with common economic challenges as well as ethnic wars and conflicts problems facing West African States for instance. For Singapore government to achieve the enviable e-Government status through effective online services delivery to its citizens, certain strategies were again adopted:

I) E-Government Infrastructure

The government put in place a National Information Infrastructure as backbone for e-government services delivery. This strategy was christened Public Service Infrastructure (PSI) in Singapore.

Physical Infrastructure

Government itself provided Internet access points in convenient places such as public libraries, shopping malls, government offices, hospitals, subway stations and clubs and relevant public places for the citizens to use free of charge.

Technology Infrastructure

Here, the Government provided computers, servers, networks (broadband and wireless), mobile devices, smart cards as well as technology standards that are open and scalable such as Java, XML, Web services.

Authentication Infrastructure

Under this the government provided E-Government ID and Password for all its citizens. It made it easier for very citizen to know how to log online and access Government information and services.

II) E-Government Legislation &Policy

Having put in place the necessary infrastructure for the e-government services to the citizens, the next strategy the Singapore government adopted was the enactment of relevant rules and regulations and policies that govern the implementation of the programme.

Some of the major regulations were meant to safeguard privacy and information security; data protection, data privacy, computer misuse, legal recognition of electronic transactions, official control of cryptography, security audits and well as standards and certification of security practices. Singapore’s legislation and code of practice include Computer Misuse Act; Electronic Transaction Act, which was enacted in 1998, tried to define the rights and obligations of transaction parties, and also provided legal status on the use of electronic records and signature. The Government also provided data Protection Code.

III) E-Government Services

After putting in place ICT infrastructure and legislation and policy the government then developed a website called E-Citizen Portal. This website was to enable citizens to ask questions and receive answers. Specific electronic services deliveries are provided on this site.

Some of the services on this website include payment of taxes and fines; Issuance and renewal of driver’s licenses; Helping citizens find employment; National campaigns and awareness creation on social services such health and education; Introduction of Internet and IT training courses; e-learning and smart card in schools. So computer literacy started right from the primary school in Singapore etc.

In the poor and rural communities, the government provided free computers and Internet access points and posted officers who know how to operate the equipment to assist the illiterates to benefit from the online services.

In fact, in Singapore today some services like the issuing of Passports and Birth Certificates, you have to sit in the comfort of your home and fill the necessary forms and e-mail them to the appropriate authorities. Government will reward you for obtaining the services on line. Interestingly if you go personally to those offices for the services, you will pay penalty for going there personally. And after paying the penalty you will be directed to go and use a computer in a corner
there in the office still to apply for the documents you wanted.

In the case of Businesses, E-Tender was introduced in that any company that wanted to bid for government contracts can only do that through the Internet. Corporate taxes could only be filed electronically. Annual Reports and periodic business reports are all presented online. As in the case of E-Citizens Portal, there is also one-stop Portal for all government procurement opportunities with
over 8,000 trading partners. It is on this Portal that all corporate bodies do business with the government in Singapore. This is known as integrated e- Services.

This is the level of E-Government Services in Singapore. Is it any wonder that they are the 2nd e-nation after Canada in the e-world? Ghana, too, can do the same no matter how long it takes. What is important is for the Ghanaian IT experts to give the correct technological advice to the government of Ghana.

Increasing Local Government Revenue Through Institutional and Structural Reforms

Introduction

The local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines raise their own income from taxes, aside from a proportionate share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) that is appropriated by the national government. Section 129 of the Philippines Local Government Code of 1991 provides that local governments have the authority to raise their own revenue by collecting taxes on real property, transfer of real property ownership, printing and publication, franchise, profession, amusement or rest and recreation, on sand, gravel, and other quarrying activity, and on delivery truck or van.

Records of the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) of Bulacan showed that the province generated revenue amounting to P1.16 Billion for fiscal year 2004. Bulacan is ranked second among other provinces that have recorded the highest income. The rank is a slot higher from Bulacan’s position in 2003. Bulacan was also recognized as the third highest collector of Real Property Tax (RPT) among the provinces. Bulacan has consistently exercised its local taxing mandate to increase revenue collection.

In the published Commission on Audit (COA) Report (Bulletin Today, 29 Sept. 2007), Bulacan ranked first among the Provinces of the country with the Highest Gross Income at 1,717,600.00 pesos, and ranked Third with the Highest Net Income at 368,180,000.00 pesos for the year 2006.

Tax Collection Performance

Real Property Tax (RPT) collection has maintained consistently, on the average, between P90 Million to P154 Million from 1999 to the 2005. Except in 2002, when the Real Property Tax Information System (RPTIS) started to become fully operational and was perceived to have contributed to the collection of P140.7 Million in that same year.

Tax collection on printing and publication has been increasing from 1999 to 2005. Records of Provincial Assessment and Treasury Office (PATO) of the Province of Bulacan showed that the amount of collection quadrupled during the first semester of 2005 to P121.1 T from its 1999 value of P15.4 T. The average collection from 1999 to 2001 is P16.9 T. For years 2002 to 2004, average collection is P49.8 T; for the first semester of year 2005, the average is P64.07 T. Tax collection on franchise in 1999 has amounted to P3.4 M, as reflected by the records of PATO; but the same amount increased six times during the first semester of 2005 at P21.6 M. The average collection for 1999 to 2001 is 24 Million Pesos. For years 2002 to 2004, the average collection is 40.06 Million pesos. For the first semester of year 2005, the average is P21.6 M.

Fluctuating movements in the collection of professional tax from 1999 towards the first semester of 2005 are reflected in the records of PATO, from 1999 to 2001. The collection average is P1.11 M. For the years 2002 to 2004, the collection average is P1.57 M. And for the first semester of year 2005, the average is P1.32 M.

Collection of amusement tax from 1999 to 2005 was consistent as reflected by the records of PATO. From 1999 to 2001, the collection average was P2.56M. The same average was attained in years 2002 to 2004, although it decreased during the first quarter of 2005 with a total collection of only P2.4M. Tax amnesties were offered to resort owners by the PATO but the effect was minimal. Resort owners disagreed on why the nature of their businesses was classified as amusement. As of the latest inventory, a 119 resort are operating in the province, many of which refuse to comply with the tax policies implemented by the local government. Round table discussions were and are currently being held so that the province can reach compromise agreements with the owners of these resort businesses. Resorts are one of the most lucrative businesses in Bulacan, providing a more extensive revenue base for the government.

The collection of annual tax on delivery van and trucks from 1999 to first semester of 2005 increased significantly as shown by the records of the PATO. The collection average is P668, 000 from 1999 to 2001; from 2002 to 2004, the average is P801, 000; during the first semester of 2005, the average is P890, 000. It has satisfactorily improved during the seven years period in review.

Tax collection average on the transfer of real property ownership from 1999 to 2001 is tagged at P333.3 M. The average for years 2002 to 2004 is P20.6 M. And the average for the first semester of 2005 is at P30.8 M. The collection for transfer tax on real property has fluctuated during the seven-year period in review.


Institutional and Organizational Interventions

The laudable tax collection performance of the province of Bulacan from 1994 to 2004 could well be the result of a serious implementation of institutional and organizational programs that were planned, adopted, and established one after the other, by the present political leadership; or it could be result of a convergence of such programs that intervened in the usual operations of the local government between 1996 and 2003.

The programs (or interventions) which perceived to have contributed to the positive outcome of tax collection in Bulacan are: • The Performance Management System (PMS)

The Performance Management System (PMS) is a system of monitoring and evaluating the quality and performance of all provincial government offices for judging system-level efficiency and effectiveness. It was first implemented in the province of Bulacan in 2002 under the supervision the Provincial Planning and Development office (PPDO); however, it became fully operational only in the first quarter of 2003 when a monitoring team assigned to conduct consultations and monitoring activities was created.

The PMS implemented by the Organization, Monitoring and System Development Division (OMSD) of the office of the Provincial Administration (OPA). Based on provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991, the Provincial Administrator (PA) has the power to implement management and administration-related programs. The mandate of the PA has been made more effective by the PA’s Office strategic position in relation to all offices of provincial government (ANNEX A). The organizational structure of the provincial government has enabled the PA to control and monitor the activities of every department, making the PMS program an intervention at the institution level rather than at the organization-level.

The first component of the PMS program of the provincial government of Bulacan is the derivation of key result areas (KRA) and performance indicators (PI) in six (6) service sectors. The service sectors are: Economic Development, Social Development, Environment and Peace and Order, Infrastructure Development, and Development Administration. PATO is grouped under the last sectors. The KRAs are the primary products or services desired and are the focus of the performance process. The KRAs are considered “SMART” (specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic to achieve, and time-bounded with the deadline) goals. The PIs are measures that provide information to evaluate the result of what have been accomplished. They are service standards expressed in terms of quantity of services provided, quality or services provided, and cost of services provided that have to be accomplished in a given period of time. Both KRA and PI of PATO are endogenous that is, internally generated or tailored to its needs.

The PMS of the PATO consists of six (6) KRAs and fourteen (14) PIs. The six KRAs are increase revenue, improved treasury system, operational financial management information system (FMIS), operational Real Property Tax Information System (RPTIS) of which complete and updated tax maps and improved assessment systems are to be provided.

Increased revenue is measured in terms of the number of delinquent taxpayers that are identified in municipalities, the number of demand letters that are sent to delinquent taxpayers, and the number of delinquent taxpayers who paid taxes after receiving the demand letters.

Improved treasury system is being measured in terms of the number of minutes per order of payment computed and prepared for simple transfer and estate taxes with extra judicial settlement, the number of financial transactions processed, and the number of official receipt prepared and issued by the department.

An operating FMIS is measured by the response time of employees (in minutes) in the preparation of official receipt, reports on collection and deposits, and record update. Performance on RPTIS is measured in terms of the response time in preparation tax declaration, property holding and certifications, such as certificate (with improvement or without of improvement) of real property.

An operating RPTIS is measured by the number of tax declaration and certification issued. Completed and updated tax maps are measured in the terms of the number of section and barangay index maps complete and updated. The Tax Mapping Division (TMD) of the Assessment Unit (AU) of the PATO is responsible for this activity. Response time on the processing of simple transfer, subdivision, reclassifications and classifications, re-assessment, and new declarations are the indicators of an improved assessment system.

The derivation of KRAs and PIs completed the first component of the PMS and was called the The Performance Planning for the Performance Management System of PATO.

The second component of the PMS program is performance appraisal. This is a system of monitoring ha been implemented in order to progress on performance and ensure that the performance standards are met. This starts when the PATO supervisors (Division Chiefs) observe and formulate measure to tract activities within their department.

The next stage is feedback wherein supervisors give their Head of Office timely and feasible information relevant to how well results are being achieved. The division chiefs of the PATO are participative in this stage. They provide feedback reports frequently during Division Chiefs meetings and staff meetings.

The last stage in the second component of the PMS program is the conduct of performance review and is done after quarterly accomplishment reports are submitted by the PATO Head of Office (Provincial Treasurer) to the PA. This Report is called the Department’s Performance Progress Report (DPPR), which is detailed document describing the program, project, and the activities of the department under the six KRAs with standard targets and accomplished measure of quantity, quality, cost, and response time. The reporting is usually followed by monitoring schedules conducted by management auditors who would go down the offices and ranks of the departments to further document results, standards of performance, and progress towards achieving these results. Moreover, the auditors give impressions on how well results were achieved, suggestion on how to improve performance, and guidelines to follow their suggestions.

The third and last component of the PMS program is the rewarding of exemplary performance. This is usually held twice a year (mid-year and year-end) During the conduct of Assessment and Planning Workshop, when the whole Provincial Government represented by heads of all is thirty (30) departments is seven (7) district hospital meet outside of the province. Besides the rewarding, the workshop becomes a forum for assessing programs and projects implemented by department hospital officers in the previous year and for the discussing their targets for the following year in the presence of the Provincial Governor of Bulacan. 2003 Restructuring Program

One major change brought about by the Restructuring Program of 2003 in the Provincial Government of Bulacan was the merging of the Provincial Assessment and Provincial Treasury departments into one department. The objective of the restructuring is to synchronize the activities previously done separately by each department in order to attain one specific goal, which to increase revenue from real property taxes. With the new structure, real property tax assessment and collection are simultaneously analyzed and processed so that errors in assessment and valuation could be minimized. These errors usually arise from inaccurate valuation of the actual usage of real property.

The reorganization of 2003 is also resulted in the creation of a Tax Mapping Division responsible for tax mapping activities under the Provincial Assessor. Tax mapping begins with “one-site” inspection by tax mappers of real property units to validate the tax declaration of real property owners, in terms of actual use and location, and ends with the plotting of the parcels of land on drawn section maps.

The reorganization of 2003 also reduced the number of the total workforce under the PATO, from sixty-nine (69) to fifty-four (54). The current PATO workforce includes treasury and assessment officers, collection and assessment clerks, cashier, records officers, tax mappers, draftsmen, and administrative staff. The reorganization reduced the expenditures of the department on personal salaries. The merging of assessment and treasury activities required the appointment of two (2) Assistant Department Heads, one to oversee the entire assessment function and the other, the entire collection function (Annex B).


Management Information Systems

The provincial government initiated the development and installation of computer-based information system to support efforts in verifications, mapping, and update of real property database as well as for proper assessment, valuation, and speedy collection of taxes from rightful owners.1. Real Property Tax Information System (RPTIS)

The Real Property Tax Information System (RPTIS) is designed to achieve accurate and updated records of real properties for the entire province. Underlying principle of the RPTIS is increasing efficiency of services through use information technology. This information holds a complete database of real properties in all 22 municipalities and two component cities of Bulacan, properly classified as to use, location, and ownership.

The computerization of the assessment process through RPTIS led to discovery of errors in valuation of property and taxation. The data on ownership and actual use of property enabled employees to do away with archival search on records of real properties, except in rare cases. Using assigned Property Index Number (PIN) on real properties, employees could readily access tax declaration certificates from the computer terminals. This ready access minimized instances when employees computed either lower or higher assessment valuation than what was actually acceptable, because most employees, before the RPTIS was installed based valuations on archival records which were then in disarray.

The RPTIS enabled the assessment unit to provide property owners with various assessment documents in less response time. A certified true copy of tax declarations, if computer generated, will be provided within 20-25 minutes, or certificates of no improvement/ with improvement within 10 minutes. Because of this assessment unit was able to serve more clients.2. Geographic Information System (GIS)

The Geographic Information System (GIS) was tied up the RPTIS where the record database is directly linked to the digital map. This is done with the use of tax maps generated through inspection of properties with tax mappers. Parcels of land are plotted on section maps that are maintained and updated by the Assessment Unit. Section maps are then scanned for geo-referencing refers to the process of scaling, rotating, translating, and de-skewing image to match a particular size and position. Screen digitization is the conversion of an image from printed paper, film, or other media formats to an electronic format where the object its represented as either black and white dots, color, grayscale pixels, or 1’s and 0’s. The GIS supported RPTIS to serves to check and to reconcile the RPTIS database through its land use color-coding scheme and the actual satellite-based graphic image. Through the GIS, undeclared properties are precisely identified. 3. Financial Management Information System (FMIS)

The FMIS enables collection unit of the PATO to issue official receipts and to prepare reports in less response time. It has three modules that guide the operations of the Provincial Accounting Office (Accounting), Provincial Budget Office (PBO), and PATO. The FMIS links all financial operation of the PATO with the other two offices. For example, in releasing of financial aids, the PATO can trace if assistance was ready for release after the assignment of obligation. This activity has help employees of PATO to concentrate on revenue generating activities rather than revenue reducing activities, such as giving of aids, by lessening the time employees spend on activities other than tax generation. While the FMIS supports the Revenue Operation Divisions (ROD), employees of the Cash Receipt and Disbursement Division (CRDD) benefit most from the FMIS.

The target response time of the FMIS process of each official receipt – three (3) minutes or less; collection and deposit report preparation – eight (8) minutes or less; collection report of liquidating officer – eight (8) minutes or less; and each record updated – five minutes or less.

Information and Education Campaign and other Strategies

Although the use of information management system (MIS) in real property tax administration significantly improved the financial standing of the provincial government, collection of real property tax remains a problematic area in revenue generation because of the following issues and concerns:1. Idle lands are yet to be identified 2. Real property units are declared in names and multiple claimants 3. Locating unknown owners and undeclared properties 4. Real properties covered by land reform which ownership were transferred to farmer beneficiaries are yet declared for taxation purposes; and 5. In appraisal and assessment, obsolete classification of lots as per actual use (e.g., commercial but declared as residential).

In recognition of the above issues, the provincial government of Bulacan implemented the following strategies:

A. Massive Tax Information and Education Campaign through the following methods:1. Orientation / Workshop for Homeowner’s Association Officers and members on provincial taxes; 2. Tax caravan (motorcades) conducted quarterly; 3. Public Address System in subdivisions and barangays;4. Tax “Balitaan” in subdivisions and barangays wherein problems on assessment and payment are discussed;5. Distribution of “comics” (reading material) and flyers to property owners in 22 municipalities and 2 component cities of the province.6. Installation of billboards in 22 municipalities and 2 component cities; and7. Streamers on conspicuous places in 22 municipalities and two component cities.

B. House – to house survey in subdivisions to update real property records;

C. Establishment of Real Property Assessment and Tax payment Assistance Centers in subdivisions and barangays were tax payers can directly pay taxes;

D. Consultation with all 119 subdivision developers;

E. Submission of a certified list of Delinquent Taxpayers in municipalities by the Municipal Treasurers to the PATO and Issuance of Demand Letters by the Provincial Legal Officer to demand payment ( in 2004, 430demand letters in which 11,380);

F. Implementation of “BUWIS” Award and giving of incentives to barangays in recognition of RPT collection performance.

In the collection of professional tax, PATO coordinated with the DepEd Divisions Office to increase collection from public and private school teachers. The same method was done in


Shaping Culture, Values and Attitudes

David (2003) posited that there are several factors that affect “achievement of successful outcomes” in an organization. On of which is culture, which affects organizational performance in the same way as it affects the behavior of employees. This can be illustrated in values exhibited by employees in different situations. Gorospe (n.d.) said that Filipino values are ambivalent, and can assume either a negative or positive form. When an employee says “bahala na,” it could mean either taking a risk in i9nspite of the difficulties hoping to emerge successful in the end, or doing nothing because of a belief in a pre-determined fate. These cultural values should not be ignored as it influences local government performance.

If culture is difficult to change, then the effects of institutional or organizational intervention implemented in a particular organization are readily felt. Berkdol (n.d.) declared however,”- Although culture resist change, they are constantly changing.” With positive results experienced by the provincial government of Bulacan associated with the inventions in policy, structure, system, and Human resources, four (4) PATO organizational values were observed by the author to have been affected significantly.

First, the institutionalization performance planning through the PMS programmed reduced the previous practice of employees to work without target goals. In the case of revenue collection, employees become more motivated to perform their assigned task because such task included objectives that were clearly stated and determined beforehand. The inefficiencies associated with the “aimless” style of working and the “fatalism” culture of the employees toned down by performance planning.

Second, the spirit of cooperation was further strengthened with the reorganization program in 2003. Because the boundaries of work assignment were clearly defined; overlapping of functions between the Assessment and Treasury were reduced. The divisions and units were structured for specific purposes and work mandates.

Third, consultation as “social value for seeking and encouraging others opinion”(De Leon n.d, p.15) was continuously practiced. Division’s chief began to respect and value their co-workers’ and subordinates opinion when the department needs to solve issues concerning its operation. With the institutionalization of performance planning, employees of PAT O we more involved and frequently consulted in every project or activity that the department is about to undertake. The activity also provided the opportunity for the employees to ventilate ill feelings or problems associated with their workFourth, “trial and error” or guesswork was reduced. Guesswork refers to ‘ working without any clear strategy or (sic) structured procedure ” (De Leon, n.d., p. 17). With the enactment of the Provincial Revenue Code, an incremental policy reform, guidelines on collection of provincial taxes were properly laid down and followed. This has led to the institutionalization of a system and procedure in tax collection. Moreover, the MIS in the assessment records provided support to the assessment officers, enabling them to determine more accurately the obligations of taxpayers and to prevent irregular arrangements or “areglo” (De Leon n.d., p18) in the enforcement of tax collection. Although values affect employee attitude and motivation, Chowdhury and Amin (2001) believe that values and attitudes are different can be measured when formed in evaluative statements. Bazler and Smith, on he other hand define attitude as reaction towards five specific dimensions of job. (Chowdhury and Amin, 2001). These five dimensions are “work satisfaction,” “pay satisfaction,” “supervision satisfaction,” with promotion,”and “Co-worker’s satisfaction.” In conducting a survey among the employees of PATO, the level of satisfaction of the employees was gauged using of four dimensions of job, excluding” satisfaction with the promotions.” Of the 54 survey questionnaires distributed, 46 responded and returned questionnaires were used in the satisfaction analysis. The following are the results of the survey: Work satisfaction garnered satisfactory rating ranging from 70-75%Pay satisfaction garnered poor rating ranging from 37-50 %Supervision satisfaction garnered satisfactory rating ranging from 79-83 % Co-workers satisfaction garnered satisfactory rating of 87 % Overall, satisfactory rating of 74 % was attained.The satisfaction was derived by getting the difference between sum of the “Strongly Agree” (SA) and “Agree” (A) percentage responses and sum of “Strongly Disagree” (SD” and “Disagree” (D) percentage responses of the Likert scale.

Post Institutional and Organizational Concerns

The main benefit of MIS when employed in revenue-generating government offices is the reduction of certain irregularities. The GIS-supported RPTIS was mainly designed to minimize income lost from erroneous valuation and assessment of real properties. The absence of an accurate and updated database on real properly sometimes provide the opportunity for employees to present over-or under valued assessments to taxpayers as a way to augment their low salaries. The information systems installed at the provincial government of Bulacan prevent the practice called “areglo” (Spanish) that arises from the residual powers of employees obtained from inaccurate database. Another benefit derived from MIS is the minimization of time wastage, prompting employees to serve more clients.The MIS, however, entails a huge amount of funding to keep it going. In the case of GIS, radioscope are also needed to acquire graphical satellite-base imagery. Large capital layout is required, and chief executives sometimes go to extent of lobbying with higher authorities in order to get the approval for the release of funds. At this point, initiatives at the operational level are difficult to proceed and it demand persuasive-skills of techno-bureaucrats who wish for the implement of their MIS projects. Sustaining the momentum of the MIS becomes an issue because of the expected change in leadership in near future.Organizational restructuring depends on the outcome desired. It does not have a standard prescription. In the provincial government of Bulacan, the initiative to focus on real properly tax collection p[prompted the PATO to design an organizational chart that can increase the assessment capabilities of the workforce. The office of the Provincial assessor was previously a separate department but it is now merged with Treasury. Moreover, a Tax Mapping Division was created to perform activities require by the GIS-supported RPTIS.Overstaffing is a disadvantage to the productivity of an organization Because it breeds inefficiency. By abolishing fifteen positions in the PATO, the spent for managing and supervising employees has been reduced. However, difficulties in the implementation of a major organization program at the provincial government of Bulacan because the laid-off workers have to be given retirement or separation options before the organization could be totally streamlined. Reorganization cannot be completed if employees’ right and privileges were ignored.The performance Management System (PMS) is rendered ineffective if the targeted clients of the program are not serious about it. While the performance standard can be replicated in the other LGUs the successful implementation of the program highly depends on the employees’ acceptance. Management auditors play an important role in helping decision-makers to monitor and assess the PMS through feedback mechanisms. It is important that chief executives and the political leadership be informed of the “honest” results of the audit process. In this manner, the real or actual scenario of managerial, staff, and rank-and-life performance is reflected.Effective mainstreaming of performance management can be attained by assigning the responsibility to a particular office for the purpose of control over the other offices. In the provincial government of Bulacan, the Provincial Administrator’s Office is responsible for the implementing the PMS in all offices of the LGU. Performance management can be more effective if it is implemented at the institutional level than at the organization level. The demand for, and degree of acceptance of, the PMS is greater if all departments were involved in the program.So far the interventions done in the province of Bulacan have been effective in increasing tax collection. Dependency of the provincial government on the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) has been gradually reduced each year. Improvements in the collection of the provincial taxes, except from the amusement tax and some unrealized income from real property and transfer. The LGU has planned another intervention to compel resort owner in paying the required amusement taxes. The campaign for the real property tax should be continually approached from both government and citizen. The organizational intervention s could not be solely relied upon to increase real property collection unless information coming from the citizens themselves are obtained.Institutional intervention in the provincial government Bulacan provide legislative support to the tax initiatives of the Governor. The Provincial Revenue Code provides a basis for the implementation of the tax program in Bulacan, although it was not necessarily meant for the compliance of the provincial ordinance. Tax amnesties are regularly given to encourage taxpayers to meet their obligation and these are usually supported by a Resolution from the Local Legislative Council. Tax compromise could be reached with the owners of resort business and the possibility is high with the intervention of the Local Legislative Council in the offering of amnesties.The satisfaction level of employees in their respective work situation determines their productivity level. With the result s of the survey, it is clear that the interventions done the policy, structure, and system of the PATO produced agreeable level of satisfaction of employees, particularly in terms of work, supervision, and co-worker’s satisfaction. Addressing the low income of its employees, the provincial government of Bulacan has implemented a P1,000.00 increase in salary in compliance with the order of the Office of the President. Although insignificant, the provincial leaders hope that the increase could augment the level of work satisfaction of their employees. Institutional and organizational interventions policy, structure, and system can contribute to a desire outcome in revenue generation but should be augmented by an intervention on human resources development, so that organizational capability can be further improved. Interventions on policy, structure and system can be motivate employees to work harder but does not be effective if the economic aspect of their job is not fully attended.Finally, aside from the above-mentioned issues and lesson learned, the observations obtained from the organizational transformation experiences of the provincial government of Bulacan also show that positive changes in the administrative culture of the workforce can be attained by reinforcing values of performance within the context of work.


References

Admin, M N and Chowdhury M S (2001). Relative Importance of Employee Values, Attitudes and Leadership Behavior in Employee Motivation: An Empirical Investigation. Miami University. USA. Retrieved July 2005 form [http://sba.muohio.edu/abs/2001/Quebec/Chowhury.pdf]

Barkdoll, G L (nd). Individual Personality and Organizational Culture OR “Let’s Change This Place So I Feel More Comfortable”. University of Toronto, Canada. Retrieved July 2005 form [http://leo.oise.utoronto.ca/~vsvede/culture.htm]

Bulacan, Provincial Government of. Retrieved February 2006 from http://bulacan.gov.ph

De leon, C and Han, S (n.d.). Management and Culture in the Philippines. BRC papers on Cross-Cultural Management. HongKong Baptist University, HongKong. Retrieved July 2005 from [http://net2.hkbu.edu.hk/~brc/CCMP200202PDF]

Provincial Government of Bulacan (2003). Official reorganization documents of the offices of the provincial governments. Malolos City, Bulacan, Philippines: Provincial Human Resource and Management Office (PHRMO)

Provincial Government of Bulacan (2003). Official reorganization documents on the mandates of the office of the provincial governments. Malolos City, Bulacan, Philippines: Provincial Human Resource and Management Office (PHRMO).

Provincial Government of Bulacan (2002). Performance Ordinance No. C-002 dated 16 December 1996, Known as ” An Ordinance Enacting the Provincial Revenue Code of Bulacan and for other Purposes.” Malolos City, Bulacan, Philippines: Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO)

Republic of the Philippines. The Local Government Code of 1991 (R.A. 7160).

Sosmena, G C, Guillermo, M J and Sapuay, S E (2004). A Handbook on Measuring Local Government Performance. Pasay City, Philippines: Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF).

Gorospe, V R (SJ) (2005). Understanding the Filipino Value System. Chapter VI. Washington, D.C.: Council for Research and Values in Philosophy. Retrieved July 2005 from [http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-7/chapter] vi.htm

Wilson, David (2003). Promoting Institutional and Development. United Kingdom: Department for International Development (DFID).

Copyright @ 2007

State and Local Pension Accounting

Being a government employee comes with benefits that are far surpassed by the cons of being under constant regulatory and budget scrutiny. Advancement and pay increases are typically pre-defined and are turned into a waiting game rather than a goal to be reached to effort and skill. Speed and quality of resources can be delayed and impaired by budget shortfalls and cuts. What seems to make a government employee career worth-while is the pension policy which after a pre-defined period of service, provides remaining life income and benefits equal in value ranging from a percent based up to and including full final year total income. Employees contribute percentages of incomes to pension pools managed by outside organizations, which when combined with government contributions are designed to cover future benefit obligations using market growth rates and contributions. The 2008-2009 economic decline resulted in a near flat decade of asset growth, highlighted the serious under-funding through contributions and a unsustainable reliance on market growth to meet pension obligations.

According to a 2010 report by the Pew Center on the status of state pension obligations, the gap between pension assets and liabilities is in excess of one trillion and represents a massive long term liability and deficit that until recently where not reported on state and local balance sheets. Prior to June 15th, 2013 the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) did not require state and local governments to report their long time pension obligations on balance sheets, contrary to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) which requires pension obligations to be reported both short and long term liabilities. Similar to the private sector who are forced to expense pension accrual shortfalls, current due pension obligations that were short funded fall upon the state and local taxpayers who are forced to divert the tax funds from vital services and resources to non-productive pension obligations.

Due to pressure from politicians, bondholders, taxpayers, government workers and all those who had a vested interest in state and local governments, the GASB issued statements designed to better reflect existing benefit liabilities on GASB balance sheets. On June 25th, 2012 the GASB approved Statement No. 67, Financial Reporting for Pension Plans and Statement No. 68, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions which are to be placed into effect on all Financial Statements for fiscal years starting on June 15th, 2013 require reporting entities to disclose their net pension liability which represents the difference between the total pension liabilities and the assets available for funding.

Outside the balance sheet, the GASB also requires to provide additional information on pensions through the Notes to Financial Statements. Required information is to include “the portion of the actuarial present value of projected benefit payments to be provided through the pension plan to current active and inactive plan members that is attributed to those members’ past periods of service (the total pension liability), the pension plan’s fiduciary net position, the net pension liability, and the pension plan’s fiduciary net position as a percentage of the total pension liability.” Furthermore reporting entities are reporting to list significant assumptions which include assumptions of estimated inflation, salary increases, benefit requirements, cost of living adjustments, discount rates and any other assumptions vital to formulating projected pension obligations.

With the recently enacted changes in GASB pension accounting, reporting entities will have to accumulate and report the most recent ten years of employer and non-employer obligations and include the sources of changes in the net pension liability and components of the liability and related ratios. All plan obligations that are determined through actuary estimates will be required to include the most recent ten years of “actuarially determined contribution, contributions to the pension plan and any significant methods and assumptions used in calculating the actuarially determined contributions.”

GASB Chairman Robert Attmore in a statement said “”The new standards will improve the way state and local governments report their pension liabilities and expenses, resulting in a more faithful representation of the full impact of these obligations” and AICPA further commented through a statement released by AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon stating “The new GASB standards will benefit users of these financial statements, as well as taxpayers, since state and local governments for the first time will have to report unfunded pension liabilities in their balance sheets, providing a clearer view of pension obligations.”

GASB Statement No. 67 and 68 have finally caught up and addressed the serious pension obligation shortfalls which for the first time are now reflective on governmental balance sheets. No longer are pension liabilities capable of being ignored and will allow all stakeholders with these governmental entities to create accountability and force legislators to work in a bipartisan manner to resolve the now very transparent pending pension implosion.

Works Cited

1. GASB. GASB vote places unfunded pension liabilities on government balance sheets. 15 June 2012. 17 July 2013.
2. GASB. Summary of Statement No. 67 Finacial Reporting for Pensions. 12 June 2013. 17 July 2013.

Find Government Grants to Cope With Your Bills

Read the steps below, you can get a good perception on what to expect when buying some products and where to start researching to find your own grants.

Step1
Hospital bills: Talk to the patient advocate, they will help find any funds that are available through the hospital. Also check with Family Services to determine if your bill can be paid with emergency Medicaid funds through County Assistance. Low income families may be eligible for direct state assistance programs while others may qualify for clinics that are paid by a sliding fee scale. Sliding fees are determined by how much a family can afford to pay for a service, and is usually very small. To find out more about similar programs contact your local health department. Current bills may be eligible for reduction. Hint: It is best to do your research before paying any of your bill, after paying a portion of the bill your resources are usually cut in half.

Step2
Before going any further, you must understand there is not grant labeled specifically to pay off debts and credit cards. If you were to go into a government office and ask for such a grant you will find yourself quickly out in the cold. This is where I believe many advertisements’ mislead. You must look at your credit card’s individual expenditures to qualify purchases not the actual bill itself.

Step3
Research Look at the steps below to get ideas was to look for the funds you want. Most programs that are related to this topic are state and county ran, so it would be impossible to state specific contact information in this article for everyone. I you choose to purchase a list of information about your specific interest or residential area make sure to read the small prints. You will find lists that will be anywhere from $5 to $80, but they are usually the same lists.

Step4
Qualifying Get out your social security card, birth certificate, tax papers for the past three years, and papers on thing you own like a house or car. You will also need the same information on all the people that resides in your household, regardless of age or relation (unless they pay rent). If they pay rent you will have to include the rent payments as income.

Step5
Shopping: Regular Shopping expenditures: While you will not find grants or assistance programs that will pay for daisy dukes (unless it is a uniform requirement), you may qualify for funds to pay for uniforms for work through the local career center or school through family services. A person who is disabled who is looking to find work may also find free money to get a whole new wardrobe to change professions with programs such as the Vocational Rehabilitation program. While they probably will not pay off a bill, participating in programs like the salvation army will give you clothes if you meet income guide lines to prevent debt.

Step6
Debt due to education: It is fairly well known that there are many government programs to setup to help the disadvantage, but they are also programs to help the economy find the next “leader and doctors” of tomorrow. For government programs going to your college financial adviser may be all that you need, but to find heavy private grants you may need to research through the internet and library.

Step7
Children Dept due to dependent expenses: While most families’ daycare expenses are deducted from taxable income every year, families that are below 130% above poverty level may be eligible for additional assistance. Look for more information at your local family services or Economic Development Center for information for other funds with adoption, buying school supplies, and other necessities.

Step8
Debt due to daily living expenses: “Nine hundred dollars a month for the rest of your life to pay off any bills” is the line that is usually used. This is the information I believe that is stretched a little too far in advertisements. When a program states this, they are usually talking about social security or a disability check that helps people that are disabled and not able to earn more than $900 a month. The information given is simply to your local social security office.

Finding and Bidding on State and Local Government Contracts and RFPs

State and local government bids and RFPs are notoriously difficult to locate. Unlike the federal government, which conducts most purchasing through GSA schedules or FedBizOpps.gov, state and local bids are located in a great number of sources throughout the internet — on government webpages, public works pages, 3rd party contracted websites, and newspaper classifieds.

To locate these bids, you may want to keep an eye on newspaper classifieds or the websites of specific government entities near you. If your business operates only in North Dakota, this is easy and takes less than an hour a day. However, if your business operates in a larger state, across multiple states, or if you don’t have an hour per day to spend, a service like BidPrime.com is a cost and time-effective solution to reduce the burden of locating these valuable and often overlooked opportunities.

So I’ve identified a qualified lead, but what now? First, verify the qualifications and deadlines related to the bid in the bid document or request for proposal.

What to look out for:

  • Ensure that your company qualifies for the bid. Some bids are set-aside for minority, woman, or veteran-owned businesses.
  • Look for any listed pre-bid conferences and take note of any mandatory ones.
  • Do you need to be a registered vendor to place a bid?

After verifying these initial qualifications, it’s wise to keep track of a entity’s website where the bid was posted to view any addendums or amendments. Some entities will notify you of changes if you have expressed interest in the bid already. Checking on this website every few days in the bid process might be wise.

Some entities will post sign-in sheets for a pre-bid conference or have a utility to view past awards. This information can be used as valuable intelligence to develop a competitive bid. If the entity does not post this information online, you may sometimes request it from the agency procurement officer. This contact should be your main point of contact for any questions related to the bid, the bid document, specifications, addenda, and amendments. This information should be in the bid document or the website; however, if you cannot find this information, BidPrime’s tech support team may be able to help assist you.

Your proposal is your sales pitch for your company. Ensure that you are thorough and that you meet requirements and give a competitive yet profitable bid. Listing why you are the best candidate is an effective route too, as sometimes contacts are not awarded to the lowest bidder.

There are many resources on the web for filling out response templates that will be for another post. The most valuable resource for questions of this sort is your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).

Finally, it is important to remember that companies often lose more government contracts than they win.

Crisis: How Local Government Can Use Social Media in Emergencies

Hurricane Sandy’s path of destruction affected 24 states, and cost the U.S a total of $65 billion in damages. Nicknamed “Superstorm Sandy,” the hurricane quickly became the most cataclysmic hurricane of 2012. For example in many northeast cities, public transportation was shut down, International airport suspended flights, and all major highways were closed during the hurricane.

Catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy pose a unique challenge for government contact centers. Every day local government have a duty to provide citizens with factual information and critical answers about City services, but when the City is facing a crisis, the importance of that information is magnified. Citizens look to the City for guidance, and we provide it. One of the most efficient ways to do this is through the social media channels.

Here are a few lessons learned from many Cities based on their experience:

Prepare Ahead of Time

Like the hurricane itself, the best way to handle an emergency is to prepare for it ahead of time. During Hurricane Sandy this meant, using City resources and collecting data before the panic, and staying up to date on the storm’s progress.

Have a Practice in Place

In order to be effective during a crisis Cities should have a strategy in place. Social media strategies are not born over night, and they certainly are not created on-the-fly during emergencies. Strategies take time and practice to develop. Know your City Administration’s goals, identity, objectives, and customers before jumping into an all around high-risk situation.

Keep Your Message Consistent

When people are panicked there tends to be a lot of miscommunication and inaccurate information circulating. As a source of data and a connection to City services, you can’t risk pumping out false information. False information during times of crisis can lead to people getting hurt. Refrain from reposting information from unknown sources.

Stay Calm

It is easy to get overwhelmed during a crisis, especially when you have an influx of people contacting the City and reporting the same issues. However panicking doesn’t help anyone. Find effective ways to save time, don’t let customers get lost in the shuffle, and treat everyone with care and consideration. Customer service should not get lost during these moments, it should shine!

Local government social media platforms were crucial in handling Hurricane Sandy and helped extended their citizen communications outreach. Based on research, during the storm a number of Cities saw their followers nearly doubled, demonstrating how citizens were collecting information, and connecting with the government.

People use the internet to connect on social media not just to search for information. Local government should provide people with a single, real-time, and responsive platform to receive the information that they needed most in order to guarantee their safety.

Local Authorities And Their Responsibilities

The local administrative apparatus plays a significant role in the governance of the country at the micro level. In United Kingdom the system is functioning effectively for many centuries. Each city, borough, municipality and at county level such administrative setups are established which are having constitutional authority to govern the areas under their jurisdiction. As a unitary state the central government controls the administration of the country. But the local self-government or local authorities administer the various parts of the country from close proximity of the people. The local administrators are elected by the people of the respective localities under the provisions of the constitution. These local authorities are responsible for the day-to-day administrative of the areas and to render service to the tax payers. All emergency services like Police, Fire Service, Paramedical services, public water and sewerage systems, local environmental health and garbage disposal are some of the portfolios handled by the local administrative machinery.

The local administrative machinery will be the planning authority for the development of the area under its jurisdiction. Maintenance of the local highways and public transportation are also the responsibility of the local self-government. Apart from the above mentioned subjects many records pertaining to the citizens are to be maintained by the authorities. Details of birth, death and marriages occurring in the areas are to be collected. It is obligatory for the citizens to register such events with the local authorities. Certificates issued by them are the only valid documents for future use or reference. Failure to register such events is considered as an offence on the part of the citizens for which they can be penalized. Further the citizens have to face hardships when they seek any assistance from the government on the basis of their inherent rights as a citizen, in the absence of such certificates. Insurance or pension benefits, school admissions for children, age proof of individuals are some of other requirements for which certificates are required. Registrations of properties or business also come under the jurisdiction of the local authority. Public burial sites, cemeteries, public parks and other public places are maintained and managed by the local administration.

These administrative bodies collect taxes to finance various programmes or services they offer to the society. They have the authority to fix rates of taxes, fees or charges for the services they are rendering to the people. All the actions of the local administration are subjected to the scrutiny of the central government as well as the judiciary. The local administration has to bear the expenses of maintaining the institutional structures. Payment of salaries and other benefits to the employees are also their responsibility. They have to administer the local government pension scheme which is considered as the largest public sector pension fund in UK.

6 Steps for IT Service Management, Local Government Decentralisation, and Localism

In light of Decentralisation and the Localism Bill, following the comprehensive spending review (CSR), there has never been a better time to improve your department’s IT service management.

Consider producing your own 6 steps for the management and improvement of IT to complement government guidance on Decentralisation and the Localism Bill.

· Lift the burden of bureaucracy – smarten up your processes and remove unnecessary documentation by working smarter not harder.

· Empower communities to do things their own way – understand the roles and responsibilities in your service management disciplines and allow your team the authority to deliver.

· Increase local control of public finance – understand the true costs of your IT enterprise by implementing service asset and configuration and financial management that identifies services to component level.

· Diversify the supply of public services – consider the services you offer in IT and how you can meet the needs of your customers with innovation and a better choice of services.

· Open up government to public scrutiny – open up your IT delivery to your customers with meaningful reports and metrics so the customer understands the value of IT

· Strengthen accountability to local people – give your users and customers the power to interact with you to change their IT services for the better.

Each of these steps will enable your IT department to succeed in these troubled times. Consider the use of experts to help provide a costed proposal and business case to meet your challenges. IT Service Management could provide you with the tools you need.

Program Design – Best Practices for Utilities and Local Governments

What’s the point of a home energy audit program? To conduct home energy audits, right?

We’d argue that it’s something different. The point of an energy audit program is to drive energy retrofits that create large and lasting energy savings for the homeowner and the utility.

If you agree with us – that an energy audit is a means to an end, rather than an end itself – then you’d want to design an audit program that’s most likely to generate retrofit activity. So what are the best practices to do that?

We’ve got a top five list to consider based on our research:

1. Pre-diagnose the home before the in-home audit.
2. Offer financial incentives for the retrofit more than the audit.
3. Use the audit as a sales opportunity for the retrofit.
4. Don’t let the homeowner stray after the audit.
5. Track retrofit activity that is generated from in-home audits.

This is by no means a complete list for program designers, but we think it represents the minimum that should happen to make sure you get deep energy savings from your audit program.

Energy Audit Programs around the Country

We’ve surveyed 20 energy audit programs throughout the United States to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of driving retrofit activity from energy audits. Every program we talked with provided homeowners with a report or checklist of recommended energy efficiency upgrades once the audit was complete. But for many, that’s where the program involvement ended.

We were surprised to find that about half of the audit programs we checked out don’t keep track of how many audit recipients are going on to make energy efficiency retrofits to create actual energy savings in their home. Others keep track, but don’t necessarily offer an incentive, or hook, to get homeowners to follow through with the upgrades.

Although some audit programs offer “direct install” energy efficiency improvements during the audit, such as installing low-flow showerheads and CFLs during the walk through, they’re still missing the big savings that can occur as a result of follow-up retrofit activity. To achieve that, the audit and every touch point before and after it, needs to be a sales process for the retrofit. Homeowners need to be convinced that investing in cost-effective but “boring” measures such as insulation and air sealing are worthwhile.

The only way to even come close to guaranteeing that a homeowner follows through with retrofit improvements after an audit would be to show up for the audit with all the labor and materials needed for a full retrofit, do the audit and the retrofit work on the same day and to pay for the whole thing. If your program has the resources to do that, you can stop reading here.

The good news is that there are more realistic ways that audit programs around the country have managed to maximize follow-through from audit to retrofit and therefore maximize the effectiveness of audit program dollars. After speaking with a number of program administrators, here are a few of the best practices that we see:

1. Pre-diagnose the problem: Figure out what’s going on before the audit. If done right, this can reduce the amount of data that needs to be collected in home so the auditor can focus more time on explaining and selling the retrofit to the homeowner. And it can even identify homes that don’t need an audit at all because they’re already in great shape – saving the cost of “rolling a truck” unnecessarily.

Progress Energy Florida has been offering free in-home energy inspections for nearly 30 years. In order for homeowners to take advantage of a free in-home audit, they first call in and get pre-diagnosed over the phone by talking with a customer service representative. Only if the house seems like a good candidate based on the phone screen does an auditor go on site to do a walk-through inspection. According to their program administrators, of the 56,000 people who got a phone pre-diagnosis from Progress Energy Florida in 2009, around half went all the way through to make energy upgrades, said Tim Leljedal, a Media Spokesperson at Progress Energy.

Other programs have also used a pre-screening and education step to maximize conversion rates from in-home audit to retrofit: case studies at the Home Performance Resource Center found that conversion rates were 4x – 7x higher for programs that pre-screened.

2. Offer a financial hook for follow-through: Even if you’re subsidizing the audit itself, the important rebates to publicize to homeowners are rebates for retrofit work that comes out of the audit. Columbia Gas of Ohio charges $50 (or $20 if the homeowner is low-income) for their energy audits. But if the homeowner follows through with improvements based on the auditor’s recommendations, they are refunded the initial $50. Additionally, if the homeowner does retrofit work within 30 days of the audit, they get an additional $250 rebate.

3. Sell, sell, sell (the retrofit): Unless a program’s financial incentives are so sweet that they’re impossible to pass up, energy auditors will need to sell the retrofit during the audit – if a retrofit is warranted, obviously. It could be argued, in fact, that the most important function of an in-home audit is to convince the homeowner to follow-through on upgrades, not to gather the data to come up with the perfect energy rating of a house.

The responsibility for selling shouldn’t only fall on the in-home auditor during the audit itself. The sales process for the retrofit begins at the first point of contact with an interested homeowner and should continue through the post-audit follow-up reports.

4. Don’t sell twice: If a homeowner feels as though he or she “buys” an audit, finishes that process, and then has a separate decision to make about completing a retrofit, the sales process has to start all over again. Our recommendation – either work with integrated auditor-retrofitter partners for a program (so a homeowner stays with the same program partner throughout), or facilitate the hand-off from auditor to retrofitter without making the homeowner start over.

From our experience on EnergySavvy.com, we’ve seen that a huge list of contractors, without any guidance or hand-holding for the homeowner, is intimidating. People don’t know where to start or who to call, so they give up and ask for help, or they just give up. And having a homeowner give up at this stage in a program is very costly – it’ll take acquiring many more new potential audit customers to make up for it.

5. Track it: This may seem obvious, but it’s by no means universally implemented. If an energy audit program is going to be optimized based on how much retrofit activity results from it, there’s got to be a system in place that tracks exactly what measures were implemented in the aftermath of the audit. Many programs only track individual measures installed based on rebates redeemed for those measures and don’t report the energy saved from those measures as resulting from the energy audit. Is it really meaningful to give full credit to those single-measure rebates for the energy saved in this situation?
Summary

OK, so we agree that in-home energy audits are key to properly diagnosing energy inefficiencies in a home. But without a clear path from audit to retrofit, and a way to track it, the in-home audit is losing its reason for being: to identify and push homeowners to deep energy retrofits that create real energy savings.

To follow up on this analysis – with comments or questions – contact Scott Case, VP Business Development at EnergySavvy.com.

Cut the Size of Government and Return Inflated Property Taxes to Help Homeowners Stop Foreclosure

As the housing bubble inflated beyond all reasonable estimates of property values, one of the largest beneficiaries was the local governments that depend on property tax revenues. Some areas saw tax increases of 300-500% while homeowners were moving into areas and paying more and more for properties.

But now with the housing bubble collapsing and many homes either being abandoned or the occupants simply refusing to pay anymore, these governments are seeing their own existence threatened. After all, how can government keep increasing when property values are falling and tax revenues are decreasing?

So, in an effort to fight this threat, many governments have resorted to instituting new programs to assist homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Such hotlines or bank-government partnerships are designed to keep promoting the theft of homeowners’ money, now in a misguided effort to help them stop foreclosure. The real problem with these programs is that government at all levels often has a very, very difficult time rolling itself back, which is the only way to reduce the burden on homeowners.

Look at all the new foreclosure help programs being created by local and state governments right now. They are not going away any time soon, even if the foreclosure problem becomes less severe. And they will just continue to create a tax revenue drag on the average homeowner long after the current housing decline has ended.

Once government programs are created, they often stick around to become entrenched interest groups. And one such as a government foreclosure help hotline which “helps the children” and “keeps the American Dream alive” in the community will not be easy for any politician to do away with once its purpose has ended. Many people are not familiar with the term “mission creep,” but government has made an art of continuing to grab power and redefine its original aims to serve new perpetuations of itself.

After creating these new initiatives, the programs need to be financed, with ever increasing budgets to pay for new equipment, new invasions of privacy, new employees, and cut-backs in actual services provided to homeowners in foreclosure. Many of them may end up with the ever-increasing prices and scaling back of hours and services that are endemic to government programs, such as the Post Office, for example.

Cutting property taxes without cutting government spending will not help the people who have been funding this huge increase in government through their participation in the real estate bubble. If government did spend less, then more homeowners could keep their property taxes and use them to pay their adjustable rate mortgages or spend on increasingly expensive food and energy. After all, government provides no productivity to the economy.

Ironically enough, though, government will keep spending on new unproductive programs to help homeowners save their houses from foreclosure, which will just hurt homeowners and cause more declines in property taxes. This may continue to the point of so many foreclosures in an area that the local government finds itself in financial danger, facing insolvency. Without property tax revenue, the governments will not be able to pay back their municipal bonds and fund the militarized police departments and other so-called government services.

But instead of cutting expenses and doing away with the wasteful programs that homeowners can no longer afford to fund, government will more likely use the blunt instrument of police power. If the police departments and judges may face the possibility of not getting their taxpayer-funded payroll checks through property tax theft, they may decide to turn to direct extraction of revenues at a much higher level.

This means a new reliance on increasing government revenues through other means than property taxes. Cops could pull over more people for coasting through stop lights or speeding, and issue more tickets with higher fees. Fines for smoking in public or a county income or sales tax on everyone living and creating productivity in the area may stabilize or increase revenue in the short term, but will just engender even more disillusionment with government.

To be effective for the long term and actually help homeowners facing foreclosure on their inflated homes, government needs to cut spending and return some or all of the money based on unrealistic property values to the homeowners and other taxpayers. This means cutting the additional waste that was added to government services during the housing boom of the last seven years.

Otherwise, all these temporary programs will just continue to hurt the people they have been set up to help and create more empty houses, crime will increase through actual violations of property values or through absurd government declarations of new crimes designed to produce new revenue, and governments, after giving the people a push into bankruptcy and foreclosure, will face their own solvency crises.