Gaining Ground

Reviewing the Performance of the Texas Performance Review

Since 1991, TPR has helped Texas score a number of successes.

The Lone Star card, first recommended in 1991's Breaking the Mold, is using electronic benefits transfer technology to replace paper food stamp coupons with a plastic bank card, virtually eliminating food stamp fraud as we know it. By 1996, the Lone Star card will be in place statewide, under the aegis of the Department of Human Services and Transactive Corporation. While the rest of the nation is still just talking about it, needy Texans will already be shopping in the vanguard of the welfare reform revolution.

The Council on Competitive Government, a little-noticed recommendation in 1993's Against the Grain, is quietly transforming the way state government operates. In just over one year of existence, the council has saved taxpayers more than $13.5 million by injecting the principles of competition into the public process of contracting for goods and services. Mail sorting, data center operations, print shops and long distance telephone service have all been put to the test of competitive bidding. The council is helping prove that competition can force state government to become as efficient and effective as the private sector.

TPR has also conducted separate reviews of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and other state government operations. In the pages of our 1992 Schools Behind Bars report, we applied what we had learned in reviews of public schools to the school district operated for inmates. The result? Dozens of recommendations for making serious, effective education programs a priority behind prison bars -- saving Texas taxpayers more than $2 million and redirecting its efforts to stem the number of inmates who return. Our 1994 Behind the Walls report found another $737 million that could be cut from the cost of the state's prison system over the next five years and proposed policies to reduce recidivism that, if implemented, will help make Texans safer in our homes and on our streets.

Window on State Government is the Comptroller's on-line computer bulletin board. It has afforded tens of thousands of Texans quick, easy -- and free -- access to the inner workings of their public agencies. From regional economic analyses to the latest winning numbers of the lottery, people across town or across the state can now log on to the heartbeat of our democratic system -- open government. One Texan, a soldier stationed at Worms Army Base in Germany, even found a list of job openings on the bulletin board before his military stint ended and lined up job interviews back in the Lone Star State.

Forces of Change, also released in 1994, was an unprecedented study of the major economic, demographic and social undercurrents likely to shape Texas between now and the year 2025. Its centerpiece was the Texas Business Plan, offering for the first time in the state's history a detailed look at the challenges we'll face over the coming generation -- and providing a blueprint for reform to help us turn those long-term challenges to our lasting advantage.

As an adjunct to TPR, the Comptroller's Texas School Performance Review has studied 16 public school district operations throughout the state and offered ways to keep their scarce education dollars in the classroom, instead of squandering them on administrative red tape. So far, we've identified more than $113.5 million in total savings -- and shared the best ideas with other school districts. In Dallas, when the district faced massive lay-offs, campus violence and low test scores, our team showed them how to save 300 teachers their jobs, helped avert a tax hike for the first time in district history, reduce campus violence and even raise test scores. In both Lubbock and West Orange-Cove Consolidated ISDs, school officials, parents and students rallied around our recommendations and came up with more of their own -- surpassing our own proposals to improve their operations.

We've also looked at our own operations, increasing the efficiency and fairness of our tax collection efforts and reengineering the way we do business. Our ongoing Renaissance Project has helped us reengineer our own internal operations, saving money and suggesting ways for our employees to boost their productivity and personal job satisfaction -- all with an eye toward providing top quality customer service to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the Comptroller's office has been given a number of new duties by the Legislature. Besides TPR, we were asked to start up the Texas Lottery, and we've taken on the responsibilities of the State Property Tax Board, and a variety of tax collection and enforcement duties formerly handled by other state agencies. Yet, with all these added duties, we've kept our total number of employees well below the level we began with in 1991. And we've returned nearly $10 million in unspent administrative funds.