A Higher Standard of Service in Brazil: Bahia's One-Stop Shops, 1994-2003

Michael Scharff

Until 1994, the Brazilian state of Bahia delivered public services with little attention to efficiency or effectiveness. Citizens found it difficult to obtain basic documents like birth certificates, identification cards, and work permits, which were essential to earning a livelihood and participating in political life. Because issuing centers were mainly in urban areas with limited operating hours, citizens in interior areas were underserved, and applicants often had to wait in long lines and visit offices on different floors or shuttle between various buildings to fulfill all requirements. Poor management aggravated the problem. The state government usually placed its worst-performing employees in customer service positions. In 1995, Bahia’s newly elected governor, Paulo Souto, moved to improve service delivery by creating one-stop shops that would provide all kinds of documents under one roof in selected locations throughout the state. Souto’s reform team at the state Secretariat of Administration—the body responsible for public management—worked to enlist the cooperation not only of state agencies but also of national and municipal governments, all of which played roles in processing citizen documents. The state also hired new workers, streamlined procedures, expanded the number of locations, and deployed a fleet of mobile units to increase service access in remote areas. Regular customer-satisfaction surveys indicated the system was highly popular with the public. By 2003, when Souto won reelection, his reforms had not only simplified and accelerated document access but also demonstrated that government could be responsive and accountable to citizens.

Year of publication: 
Princeton Innovations for Successful Societies
Themes and sectors: 
Public administration
Case story length: 
17 pages

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