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State program wins national award


The state of Iowa’s Charter Agency pilot program received an Innovations in American Government Award, often referred to as the “Oscar” of government awards.

The Iowa program was one of six winners selected from more than 1,000 applicants for the awards, which include a $100,000 grant prize. “These ground-breaking efforts represent the shining stars in government innovations,” Gowher Rizvi, director of the Ash Institute, said of the awards program.

The Iowa General Assembly approved the Charter Agency program at the end of the 2003 legislative session and launched it July 1, 2003, as an attempt to “reinvent” government. Six state agencies – the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Revenue, the Alcoholic Beverages Division of the Department of Commerce and the Iowa Veterans Home – volunteered to become charter agencies for five years. These agencies committed to becoming more efficient to achieve a collective cost savings of at least $15 million each year in exchange for more flexibility, autonomy and “less red tape.”

Each of the six agencies met or exceeded its contribution goal in the program’s first year, resulting in cost savings and additional revenue generation of more than $22 million during its first year and a comparable amount during fiscal 2005, which ended June 30.

Since they started working under their new guidelines, the charter agencies have found a number of ways to serve their clients better at a lower cost. Here are a few examples of their accomplishments: improved rates of income tax returns filed electronically; reduced rate of failure of probationers; increased inmate work opportunities; and increased number of veterans served at the Iowa Veterans Home.

“What started out as a strategy for saving money during tough fiscal times ended up unleashing a revolution in state government that is having a profound impact on the people of the state of Iowa,” Gov. Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

The Innovations in American Government Awards program is part of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and is administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government.

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