VA Research Center Becomes Second Agency to Win Top Quality Award

The center's 111 employees, who support up to 40 clinical trials at any one time, range from pharmacists to warehouse forklift operators, said Deputy Director Dr. Stuart Warren.

One of the criteria for the Baldridge award is customer satisfaction, and during the past four years the center has scored above 4.5 on a scale of five in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index for the federal government. Warren said the high satisfaction score is the result of an engaged workforce from warehouse workers to computer programmers whom center executives rely on for ideas. For example, employees told management they needed a recognition program, now well-established as a formal program in which employees are recognized by their peers.

The Baldridge award program, managed by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, was established by Congress in 1987 to enhance the competitiveness and performance of U.S. businesses. Until 2007, only private sector organizations could compete for the award. That year, Commerce added a nonprofit category, which included federal agencies. The Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center became the first federal agency to win a Baldridge award.

Technology plays a big role at the center. In clinical trials, active drugs are tested against placebos. To identify the drugs, the center has an extensive bar-code tracking system that monitors the drugs from manufacturing to dispensing.

The center, based in Albuquerque, N.M., has five computer programmers on its staff, which has developed inventory management programs in-house and also Web sites for each clinical trial, which allow officials to monitor drug use and ensure timely resupply, Jones said. Astute use of technology "makes our organization more productive across the board," he said.

Veterans are the beneficiaries of the center's work, Warren said. The trials it has supported since it was founded in 1972 have resulted in better drug therapies for veterans, he said.

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