An AI tool developed by Deloitte is helping Ohio eliminate redundant and unnecessary regulations and rules that cost businesses and taxpayers time and money.
Every election cycle starts the same way, said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. Politicians promise to weed out and eliminate waste, streamline processes, and make government leaner and more responsive to the needs of its citizens and business owners. What is usually lacking, however, is specifics.
"Everyone says that but, when you dig down a little deeper, they can't tell you what that means," Husted said. "They have some big-picture ideas but, as we know, the law and regs are about the details."
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After 20 years in Ohio politics including eight years as secretary of state, Husted has seen a lot of these efforts come and go. Most are not successful because, as of 2018, the state had 240,000 regulations on the books. These regulations are enforced through a Byzantine system of rules that often overlap from department to department causing confusion and wasted effort, said Carrie Kuruc, director of the state's Common Sense Initiative (CSI), which is aimed at improving Ohio's regulatory climate.
"When you are trying to comb through regs at different state agencies it takes a long time," she said. "When you have tech that can do it quickly, you take it in a heartbeat."
Even though Ohio's state agencies are required to review rules every five years to eliminate overlap and waste, as technology advances and people change their behavior in response (like shopping online versus going to the store) state agencies are hard-pressed to keep up.
This is why, according to Husted, Deloitte's RegExplorer tool is designed to do more than just find outdated and conflicting laws and rules. It also can uncover process improvements.
"Identifying duplicate regs, yes, we want to do that," Husted said. "But I am thinking about it from a higher-function level. You can ask it how many functions in state government require you to show up at a state office or fill out a form. I'm confident that we're going to find untold numbers of those kinds of experiences."
The tool, which uses artificial intelligence (AI), can also serve as a digital mentor of sorts, Husted said. Because Ohio is a term-limit state that does not allow legislators to serve more than eight years in either the House or the Senate (although they can serve eight years in both), a lot of institutional knowledge is lost when older legislators retire. RegExlporer can help fill those knowledge gaps by presenting legislators with contextualized search results that help them avoid duplicating rules that are already on the books.
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"In the future, as [RegExplorer] learns, it can inform the drafting of legislation because you can better understand what exists in the code and how it applies," Husted said.
The major downside of the tool is putting its recommendations into practice. People in government don't like change. They are used to doing things a certain way. Also, technology tends to eliminate jobs. During his tenure as secretary of state, Husted digitalized the state's business formation process, eliminating 40% of the office's jobs in the process.
"People don't like change," he said. "If you are just used to showing up and doing the same thing everyday…there's always going to be resistance. They are going to fear-monger and say, 'This isn't going to work'."
With tax revenues expected to be down sharply this year and next because of the COVID-19 shutdown, budgets and services will need to be cut. A tool like RegExplorer can help find the efficiencies agencies will need to function with fewer dollars and staff.
"If you are going to have a smaller budget and customers need the same services you are going to have to be more efficient," Husted said. "Just think about how much better off we would [have been] if we fast forwarded a few years and a lot these services were available online."
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