Don’t tell Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that the easiest way for a state to save money is to trim services. “I go crazy when I think about the way budget cuts are usually done,” Nichols says. “There’s a better way than in negatively impacting the end user, and that’s by doing things smarter.”
Nichols’s perspective was shaped by her past stint as head of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, the agency charged with intervening in child abuse and neglect cases, administering food stamps, providing shelter during disasters, and more.
Working with highly vulnerable populations dependent on state programs made a lasting impression on the Memphis native, who grew up in a blue-collar household believing in hard work and diligence.
Nichols was a success at DCFS, attracting substantial new federal funding and reorganizing the department to be more cost-effective. She became known for deploying systems-level thinking and finding areas of improvement.
Her enthusiasm for creating efficiencies is Nichols’s most defining feature in her current post as head of the Division of Administration, the management and budget arm of state government.
Nichols, who also served previously as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bobby Jindal, is currently leading a mammoth project to save the state an estimated $500 million over the next few years, primarily by managing assets better and spending money more wisely.
She has combed every possible area for waste and identified costs such as too many toll-free numbers, overpriced insurance, and roads that are cheaper to fix now than later.
One Nichols-led project targets improvements to the procurement process.
The commissioner says the current process of purchasing equipment and supplies is fragmented statewide. Creating a centralized system will give the state the ability to drive down prices, she reasons.
Similarly, she believes state assets could be better managed. She’s leading an effort to systematize all of the state’s property holdings to better monitor how they should be used, and determine whether they can help pay for themselves through rentals, sales or better use.
“We want to ID those under-utilized assets and make sure they’re working for us,” she says.
These sorts of projects, says Nichols, are exciting.
“The interesting thing about being commissioner of administration is that you spend a lot of time with each agency, and you get to think across the board,” she says. “I like to break apart the pieces and see how we can do things better.”
Nichols embraces challenges and not just at work. An avid triathlete who competes in Iron Man competitions, she gets up at 4:30 a.m. three days a week to train under the direction of FitBird coach Anne Shawhan, who helps busy working people prepare for athletic competitions.
Nichols and her teammates are currently preparing for the upcoming Iron Man Florida Triathlon in Panama City Beach in November.
“Training for events with a group of professionals is something that inspires you on a different level,” Nichols says. “You really develop a sense of community with them.”
Nichols will raise money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation as part of her entry.
With less than two years left under Jindal’s second and final term, she says she’s in a rush to get as much done as she can.
Says Nichols: “My end goal has always been very clear to me: first and foremost, to do the best possible job for the state.”