The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) Land Resources Management Program’s Application Receipt Center (ARC) now conducts on the day of receipt the administrative completeness review for all applications received in four major land development permitting programs – a process that in the past typically took four to seven days per application and up to 14 days. The time and effort saved redound to the benefit of applicants and NHDES staff and allow for a more rapid introduction of complete applications into the technical review phase, thereby speeding the overall permitting process.
In the spring of 2009, NHDES introduced Lean techniques as part of an EPA State Innovations Grant designed to develop ways to improve permit coordination and environmental outcomes for large land development projects requiring multiple NHDES permits. The ARC was conceived and developed by NHDES staff to help improve the process of performing administrative completeness reviews on applications received in four programs: subsurface (i.e., septic systems and subdivisions; 5,000 to 14,000 per year); wetlands (approximately 2,500 per year); shoreland (approximately 400-800 per year); and alteration of terrain (stormwater management; approximately 150-400 per year).
This project, one year in the making and launched in 2011, began with mapping the “front end” of each of the four program application processes, and found that they all had different staffs, t databases, and check handling systems, to name a few of the inconsistencies. Under the ARC, there is now a single location and standardized process for the initial handling of permit applications for these four programs. At the ARC, applications are received and opened, evaluated for administrative completeness (i.e., reviewed to ensure that all required elements are included), input into a tracking database, and forwarded to technical review. In addition, all checks are now processed through a single register system, providing daily receipt tallies for each of the four programs. The new approach and dedicated ARC brings together administrative support staff from the four programs as a cross-trained team, providing for better cross-program coordination and staff coverage. Incomplete applications are immediately returned to the applicants (prior to entry into the database or payment processing), along with a checklist identifying the missing items.
Results to Date:
The initial processing (administrative completeness review) of applications is now completed on the same day they are received (a substantial reduction from 4 to 7 days, and up to 14 days for some applications). In addition, the project improved the accuracy of our initial completeness review by standardizing the initial tasks, improving the quality and consistency of NHDES response, automating some daily activities, and eliminating several data entry steps. The ARC also has been a huge boost to employee morale, self-confidence, and dedication. Applicants are appreciative of the reduced timeframe leading to a permit being sent to technical review, and also of nearly immediate notification if the application is missing necessary elements to enable technical review. The new process is saving applicants and NHDES alike substantial time and money.
Based on the ARC’s success, DES staff members are now using Lean techniques to streamline the technical review processes in the four permit programs, and to find efficiencies in the handling of complaints about alleged violations in the four programs. The ARC’s success also contributed to the 2012 decision to conduct a major reassignment of staff seating and desk assignments in order to better integrate and standardize similar functions across the four programs. All of these efforts, taken together, are intended to provide the cross-trained staff and logistical structure to support the offering of a single, integrated permit option, which would eliminate the need for applicants to submit multiple applications to the Department under the four separate programs and eliminate some duplicative effort by applicants and our staff.
Assistant Director, Water Division
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services