Originally created 01/09/01

Commission must assure quality service for citizens



THERE IS a great need for quality assurance in our local government. Some local politicians and journalists who are ignorant of total quality programs have mislabeled quality assurance as micromanagement. It is clear that they haven't a clue as to the difference.

In the late 1960s, the American industrial complex was in for a wake-up call. After decades of enjoying a near monopoly in the global industrial market, our industrial base began to believe it had it all, and had nothing to learn.

Product quality began to slip while production costs escalated. Detroit, in particular, failed to recognize changes in the market and as a result, thousands of people lost jobs and homes, and the American industrial complex lost billions of dollars to foreign businesses.

The biggest loser though was the image this country had of being leaders in technology and quality.

This attitude directly relates to our local government. Even with consolidation, many of the managerial philosophies of the old city and county remained the same. The methods used to conduct this government's business were and still are holdovers from the late 1960s. Japan was able to gain the lion's share of the car market because they realized that to be successful and competitive they had to produce better products at a lower price. This was coupled with the realization that they had to produce things that people wanted. That success depended on getting ideas to market ahead of their competitors. They embraced "total quality" as a way of life.

WHILE THE government in Augusta doesn't have a direct competitor, it does have surrounding communities and cities competing for citizens and jobs. Just as Detroit failed to recognize the need to deliver what the market demanded, we, as leaders in Augusta, have failed to recognize that the goods and services we deliver are more like a Ford Granada rather than a Honda Accord.

Here is where the confusion lies: Politicians and administrators, like everyone else, get in a comfort zone and resist changes. This government's management culture is that comfort zone.

When someone buys a new car they expect it to perform as promised without any problems. When a problem is discovered, they expect it to be corrected quickly. If the same problems continue without being resolved, that consumer will sell that car if possible and purchase one that will perform as promised.

Our citizens look at the services government delivers in the same way.

HOW DID Honda get where they are today? They instituted a quality assurance program. They made it a practice to confirm that the Accord they promised was, in fact, what was on the showroom floor. They established standards of production excellence and service consumers could trust and expect to receive consistently. We as policymakers in Augusta must do the same thing.Making sure that policies and procedures passed by our commission are, in fact, delivering what we intended them to do is quality assurance, not micromanagement.

Which brings me to two concepts: RTFT "Right the First Time" and CI "Continuous Improvement" that each person in our city must be committed to and embrace.

For Augusta to be competitive with other cities and communities we must adopt the above concepts as a way of life and a way of business.

In order to operate within our budget constraints, we must recognize and correct problems before they become emergencies. This saves time and money and better utilizes our employees. Planning, scheduling and involving work-level personnel in the decision-making process are ways to be more cost effective and efficient. (Private industry routinely utilizes this team-concept to increase productivity.)

WE ARE neither more cost effective or efficient when we accept doing less with less. If we do so, we accept the 1960s status quo.

There are many similarities between Detroit in the 1960s and Augusta Richmond County today. Our citizens are paying for municipal services and expect to receive those services in a timely, efficient, cost-effective manner. Many citizens are increasingly aware Augusta has fallen behind other southeastern cities because of its adamant refusal to embrace and welcome change. After we become widely known as a Ford Granada-type of city, business and industry will stop coming to the showroom.

Augusta can change its image and improve its products, but we must abandon the failed mind-sets of the past. These same concepts, though foreign to some politicians and insiders, are the tools that the American industrial complex has used to once again become world leaders. It worked for them it can work for us.

(Editor's note: The author is a member of the Augusta Commission.)