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Spotlight on Commerce: Dawn Bailey and Christine Schaefer, Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Ed. note: This post is part of a series for Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) May 6-12, showcasing the vast and diverse work of Commerce employees collectively working together to deliver important services that are helping the American economy grow.

Guest blog post by Dawn Bailey and Christine Schaefer, Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

For more than a decade, we each have worked for a small federal program (of fewer than 20 staff members today) with a big mission: “to improve the competitiveness and performance of U.S. organizations for the benefit of all U.S. residents.”

Contributing to this work is exciting, especially in our customer-facing roles as communicators. We both are energized by the ideas we learn about (and write about) from our interactions with people from many sectors and states. They include thousands of volunteers who have advanced our mission as part of the public-private partnership of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The Baldrige Program helps U.S. organizations of any size, sector, and in any situation improve performance to achieve long-term success. This is accomplished in part by overseeing the annual process for the Baldrige Award—the nation’s highest and only Presidential honor for organizational excellence and innovation.

The stories that these national role-model organizations have shared about how they have improved and excelled to benefit their customers (as businesses, nonprofits, or health care or education organizations) are inspiring.

Consider, for example, two 2017 Baldrige Award winners, the City of Fort Collins in Colorado and Southcentral Foundation in Alaska. Like all Baldrige award recipients, these organizations have systematically improved how they manage their work to achieve greatness.

Great Government

”The Baldrige framework is ideally suited to help local government [succeed],” said Darin Atteberry, City Manager of Fort Collins. Atteberry and the Ft. Collins leadership team used the framework to deliver not just good but great government service to their residents and business customers.

  • High Citizen Ratings on Quality-of-Life Measures: Gallup survey results have found Fort Collins citizens to be among the most satisfied in the country. Fort Collins ranks among the top 10 percent of U.S. cities for “best place to live” and “best place to work” measures, as well as for the quality of culture and recreation, availability of job opportunities, air quality, and attractiveness.
  • An Open, Customer-Focused Government: For example, the “Access Fort Collins” website has won a national award for its exceptional service features and enabling the government to be transparent in making financial and other information highly accessible to the public.
  • Strong Finances and Services: Fort Collins has maintained a “triple A” credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service, which only 4% of governments have achieved. And with the public trust it has earned, Fort Collins was able to increase sales-and-use tax income by nearly 20% over four years—while maintaining a tax rate among the lowest in its region of Colorado.

Excellent Health Care

Southcentral Foundation is an Alaskan health system that covers a geographical area of 126,000 square miles, with many villages served reached only by plane or boat and with people from very different backgrounds and cultures. It was established following passage of a 1975 law that for the first time allowed Alaska Native and American Indians the chance to take charge of the programs that directly affected them, including health care.

According to SCF President and CEO Katherine Gottlieb, success in the system came quickly, with the number of people needing care quadrupling overnight. To cope with the expansion, Gottlieb and her staff used the Baldrige framework to transform SCF, creating a relationship-based, customer-owned approach to health care.

In 2012, The New York Times visited SCF and wrote in an editorial, “Innovative solutions are emerging in unexpected places. A health care system owned and managed by Alaska’s native people has achieved astonishing results in improving the health of its enrollees while cutting the costs of treating them.” (“A Formula for Cutting Health Costs,” July 21, 2012).

Today, the 1,500-employee health system with a $210 million operating budget measures its progress through data collection efforts; benchmarking with other high-performing U.S. health care organizations; and tracking health disparity data at the local, state, and national levels. Last year, SCF became the first two-time Baldrige Award winner in the health care sector.

How Can We Help You?

Such organizations’ improvements (and even transformations) for the benefit of people in all kinds of U.S. communities make us feel good about the work we do.

We know it is a privilege to support their quests for excellence and innovation—and efforts to address ever-new challenges—through our program’s publication of tools such as the Baldrige Excellence Framework and Baldrige Cybersecurity Excellence Builder. Reflecting on what our stakeholders have accomplished and how we can continue to improve our service to them is what Public Service Week means to us in the Baldrige Program.

If you want to learn more about how you can use Baldrige resources to support your organization’s performance, take one of these actions today:

1. Visit the Baldrige Program’s website ( to check out the Baldrige framework (and download a free copy of the abbreviated version called the Baldrige Excellence Builder).

(2) Sign up for a Baldrige training offering, including Baldrige examiner training and the Baldrige Executive Fellows leadership development program.

(3) Register for a Baldrige best-practice-sharing conference such as the Quest for Excellence® conference next April.