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These Workers Saved Government Millions

“It’s frustrating for good state employees to labor under the misconception that we’re all wasting taxpayers’ money.”
— Will Haselden, manager, Cyberfraud Section of the Economic Crimes Division of the Department of Legal Affairs
Allen DiMaria’s job can be tedious at times — complicated by an inadequate computer program. As an insurance analyst with the Division of Workers’ Compensation, DiMaria must ensure that employers in Florida carry workers’ compensation insurance. The work requires investigators to draw information from numerous outside sources, including insurance companies, payroll service providers and the Division of Corporations. And the computer program wasn’t helping much, he says. “If we find an employer who’s not in compliance, we have to set up a file, issue charging documents and keep a narrative of all the work we do. The only thing that program by the vendor did was allow us to issue charging documents,” says DiMaria.

So last November, “instead of watching the boob tube,” DiMaria spent his evenings creating a better database. Using Microsoft Access, the 25-year veteran of the DWC designed an easy-to-use application that would allow him and other state investigators to easily track and work on all their investigation files. The program contains time-saving “quick links” to the Division of Corporation’s website and the phone numbers of commonly used insurance companies.

Prudential-Davis Productivity Awards
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The program, being tested by nine employees in DiMaria’s office in Jacksonville, also provides a calculation sheet, allowing investigators to easily figure out the penalties owed by non-compliant employers. And unlike the old program, which created documents in a PDF format that could not be altered, DiMaria’s program uses Microsoft Word. “If there’s a mistake, you can go right in there and change it ... so the investigators all like that very much.”

DiMaria’s after-hours work saved taxpayers about $200,000 in software vendor fees and earned him a 2009 Prudential-Davis Productivity Award, one of the highest honors a state government worker can receive. Established in 1989 by J.E. Davis and A.D. Davis, co-founders of both Winn-Dixie Stores and Florida TaxWatch, the awards recognize state employees and teams of employees who improve productivity and save the state money. This year, more than 16,000 employees were recognized (with cash awards, plaques, certificates of commendation or letters of honorable mention) for saving an estimated $342 million.

» Among the cash winners was the Comprehensive Maternity Team at the Lake County Health Department, which created the first county health department program in the state using midwives and physicians to provide pre- and post-natal care to underinsured pregnant women. Terrie Watkins, a certified nurse midwife with the Lake County Health Department, says the program has provided a vulnerable population with better access to more user-friendly services. The program has saved approximately $1 million annually, in part by reducing the average postpartum stay from 96 to 48 hours.

» An eight-person team with the Nassau County Health Department’s dental clinic also was recognized for devising a system that allows dentists to perform remote exams on patients using a teleconferencing system, digital radiograph system and an intra-oral camera. The system saves about $150 per exam.

» Susanne Crow, a biological administrator with the Department of Health in Jacksonville, was recognized for developing an information management system that allows state health departments to order tests online and receive results electronically. Crow’s innovation increased revenue by more than $750,000.

» Some of the winning work has had financial ramifications far beyond Florida. As manager of the Cyberfraud Section of the Economic Crimes Division of the Department of Legal Affairs, Will Haselden led a successful crackdown on the cell phone industry and its internet marketing partners, forcing them to reveal the true costs of ring tones they had deceptively advertised as “free.”

While the online ads lured consumers with promises of “free” or “complimentary” ring tones, the ordering process would get the consumer to sign up for a recurring subscription of $9.99 to $19.99.

“That business in 2005 was a billion-dollar business,” says Haselden. Haselden and his team convinced Google to require advertisers of ring tones to disclose any hidden fees associated with ring tones — a significant change that has benefited cell phone customers around the world. They also negotiated settlements with several companies, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, to refund more than $10 million to Florida consumers and $6.5 million to the Economic Crimes Division.

» Ramon Sierra, a project manager with the Department of Transportation in Fort Lauderdale, found a way to reduce the number of right-of-way parcels that the state would have to acquire for a roadway improvement project from six to just one. Estimated savings: $4.2 million

» Bryan Bradner, chief of real estate services for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, developed a geographic information system to help the department map and track 150 office locations statewide and identify opportunities to consolidate office locations to reduce Division of Driver Licenses costs. Estimated savings: More than $900,000

» Four employees with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles created a search tool for law enforcement that provides quick identification of vehicles described by witnesses. Before this tool was developed, police had to search through old data or submit a request to the department and wait up to 24 hours for an answer. Estimated savings: $277,000

» The EZ-Base Earthwork Stabilization Team, a 21-member team within the Department of Transportation in Jacksonville, discovered through research and testing that a coal-ash-limerock byproduct from a local coal-fired power plant is an acceptable substitute for conventional limerock as a stabilizing material in roadway subgrades. Obtaining the material from the Jacksonville Electric Authority is cheaper than trucking in limerock from a greater distance, says Larry Keen, who works in the Lake City Earthwork department of the DOT. Estimated savings: $557,236