The COVID-19 pandemic has touched just about every part of state government, even the parts taxpayers don’t normally see.
Who would know better than Alex Atwood, once Glynn County’s representative in the Georgia House, later its chief Magistrate Court judge and now in charge of the state Department of Administrative Services?
“During the pandemic, it’s been the wild west, I’ll be honest with you,” Atwood told the Golden Isles Republican Women during a Monday luncheon. “It was an emergency, it hit us fast and it’s been a challenge.”
His department is in charge of the back end of state government — human resources, vehicle and equipment management, statewide purchases and contracts, selling off surplus equipment, etc.
When the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated working from home, Atwood said administrative services helped other departments by going through the equipment surplus channels to refurbish hundreds of laptops and provide them to other departments so their employees could work from home.
With everyone working from home, the department started focusing on taking its small business development programs online, as well.
Going virtual turned out to be a great move, he said, because it opened up many seminars, courses and resources to small businesses that may not have had much access before. Putting educational material on getting government contracts online increased the number of businesses, particularly small Georgia businesses, bidding on state contracts.
Having most employees working from home also helped the department itself cut down on expenses in office rentals and paper. Atwood said the Department of Administrative Services saved over $267,000 on office space alone, allowing employees to reserve cubicles when needed in the remaining office space. Moving to entirely digital documentation slashed the money spent on printing.
“I’m glad to see something good come out of this thing,” Atwood said.
That savings turned out to be necessary when it came time to start buying personal protective equipment and cleaning offices, he added.
Many of the changes, such as the department’s work-from-home and digital documentation system, will remain after the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control. Such practices, originally implemented to save money when an economic downturn looked inevitable, may help lower taxes in the long run, he said.