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Lean Initiatives at State Environmental Agencies Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Business Process Improvement Initiative

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State Agency: Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Methods Implemented: Kaizen Event, On-Going Process Reviews, and Evaluations

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), in response to a dramatic increase in the number of air construction permit applications submitted, especially those for ethanol production facilities, held a week-long Kaizen rapid process improvement event in February 2005, aimed at improving its air quality construction permitting process.  A post-kaizen workshop followed for new staff, as well as those who did not participate in the kaizen event.  Several changes were implemented as a result of these events, including adding additional staff positions, placing an emphasis on the pre-application process, standardizing permit applications, implementing a permit review timeframe, creating a permit hotline, and establishing a permit tracking system.  The changes implemented have reduced the amount of time between when Nebraska DEQ receives completed applications and starts the public comment period, and the time needed to make a decision after the close of the public comment period. 

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Process Improvement Activities


Improvement Activities

Air Construction Permitting

Conducted Kaizen event focusing on all aspects of the air construction permitting process, including outreach and information, public participation and staff concerns, modeling, and the permitting process itself. 

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Project Initiation and Key Drivers

  • Nebraska DEQ developed a multifaceted improvement action plan that included participating in a related Kaizen event at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and conducting a Kaizen event focused on Nebraska DEQ air construction permitting process.  The Department identified possible improvements to the air construction permitting program in order to address an increased number of ethanol plant permit applications, Nebraska DEQ permit backlog, and the need to process applications within shorter timeframes.
  • The Nebraska DEQ Director invited persons from government and industry to be part of a Business Advisory Group to help NDEQ identify areas in the permitting process where improvements could be made.

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External Involvement and Technical Assistance

Business Advisory Group: Members of the Business Advisory Group provided Nebraska DEQ with a list of recommendations in the permitting process where improvements were needed and identified individuals from business, industry, and government to participate with the Department in the Kaizen process.

Facilitator: A Nebraska DEQ Air Quality Division staff member with a background in teaching graduate college courses in organizational behavior and development facilitated both the activities of the Business Advisory Group and the Kaizen event.

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Nebraska DEQ has implemented a number of changes as a result of the Kaizen event, including:

  • Standardizing permit template language;
  • Requiring pre-application meetings for more complex permit applications;
  • Emphasizing pre-application information and activities;
  • Implementing program with agreed upon timeframes (Applicant and Department);
  • Developing Ethanol and Generic Air Construction Permit Application Packages;
  • Establishing a toll-free permit hotline;
  • Increasing the number of Department staff positions; and
  • Developing a rudimentary permit tracking system on the Department webpage.

As a result of these process changes, Nebraska DEQ has seen:

  • More complete permit applications submitted;
  • Improved communication with industry applicants;
  • A 50 percent reduction in review time for ethanol plant air construction permits;
  • An almost 50 percent reduction in review time for all air construction permits;
  • A 55 percent reduction in the air construction permitting backlog; and
  • Air Quality Division staff gain greater ownership of the process, empowering them to identify and address improvement opportunities.

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Future Plans

  • Nebraska DEQ will continue to implement the kaizen event goals by improving the agency’s website, and establish a more refined permit tracking system.
  • Nebraska DEQ will continue to have process improvement meetings with staff, as well as senior Department management, to monitor progress and identify additional areas for improvement.

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For More Information

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Website Exit
The Nebraska Department of
Environmental Quality
1200 “N” Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, NE 68509-8922
(402) 471-2186

Shelley Kaderly (
Division Administrator
Air Quality Division
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
(402) 471-2186 

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