If you want to understand the possibilities for efficient and effective government, one should visit its department or bureau of Business Affairs and Licensing.
On Monday, I went to the City of Chicago Dept. of Business Affairs and Licensing to get a business license for independent consulting. This was the most effective and efficient government service experience that I have ever had.
The department website had a business license wizard that walked you through a series of questions to the page with the right forms that you needed to fill out. This was accomplished through 5 questions and I got the correct PDF form. (They did not have the online fill able PDF or it would have been a perfect process.) I filled out the form and went down to the office. You are allowed to schedule an appointment to visit the office online, but I figured I did not need to do that with the holiday approaching.
At the office, I waited in a line of 2 people to meet with the information person who asked me about the type of business I wanted a license for and printed out a number. In the waiting area, there were 10 or so people. I was glad a brought a book, except, by the time I walked across the room to get to a seat, they called up my number, which was also displayed on the TV monitor with CNN.
I meet with the Davina, the financial counselor, who asks me a few questions and types in the information from my form. She prints out another form and highlights the questions I need to answer. There are 5 yes/no questions about my “office” and property, and 4 questions on tax related stuff. She tells me that I am to fill them out there so I can ask any her questions. I answer the questions and she types them in the system.
She tells me that because of my zip code, my application has to be approved by planning as opposed to zoning and that with the holiday, I will know by Friday. Then I should come in and review the approval and pay the $250 fee. Then, I will get my business license that same day.
The entire process in the office took less than 15 minutes.
The moral of the story:
Governments can be extremely efficient and effective when it comes to generating their own income. The City of Chicago requires all business to get a $250 business license for profits and $50 non-profits. If you rent or own a space, have a car, need to put signage on the walkway, need to use the sewage system, doing business as another entity, each item is an additional fee. While many other Chicago agencies seem mired in incompetence due to corruption, the experience of the Dept. of BA and L was the model of good citizen service and I left feeling good about the government. If only that could be replicated at the DMV.