High-ranking member of Gov. Herbert’s Cabinet to leave post

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Kristen Cox, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget, makes a point as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert came to The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board meeting to discuss his recommendations for the fiscal year 2017 budget, Dec. 9, 2015.

Kristen Cox, among the most powerful members of Gov. Gary Herbert’s Cabinet, is leaving her post at the helm of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

A spokeswoman for Herbert’s office confirmed that Cox will be exiting her post in early September. In a prepared statement, Herbert said she is leaving the state for other employment opportunities but didn’t specify what they are.

“Kristen Cox has been an inspiration during her eight years of service as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget,” Herbert said in the statement. “She has served extremely well — so much so that she makes the rest of us look like we are moving in slow motion.”

The state Senate and House on Thursday presented Cox with a citation honoring her for her years of service and her efforts to create a more efficient state workforce, with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle praising her work.

House Speaker Brad Wilson said he’d sometimes wished Cox didn’t work for the executive branch, since she was a force to be reckoned with in debates between Herbert and the Legislature. However, the Kaysville Republican said there is “zero question” in his mind that the state has benefited from her leadership.

“The other thing that I share with you, that I don’t really share with other members of the executive branch, is you and I can have a good yell at each other and tell each other what we really think,” he said. “But we always end up friends at the end.”

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, called her a “role model.” And Senate President Stuart Adams praised her work to improve testing and other metrics related to COVID-19.

“The effects you’ve had on the state of Utah especially during this pandemic are unbelievable and we’ll miss you greatly and appreciate all the great things you’ve done,” the Layton Republican said.

A number of state lawmakers also praised Cox, who is blind, for her persistence through difficult life circumstances.

“If you look at the people in state government, there aren’t a lot of people like her, to be a strong woman and to also have a disability and to be a strong leader,” House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said. “She’s an example to both men and women, I think especially young ladies or young women who are looking for role models. In my mind, she would definitely be one of those. And she is one for me, and I’m a male.”

Cox was appointed by Herbert in 2012 after she’d worked for several years as head of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. As head of management and budget, Cox has — sometimes controversially — pioneered the use of the Theory of Constraints in state government. The theory, typically applied in the private sector, centers on the idea that managers should focus resources on the slowest or weakest part of their workflow process to realize massive improvements in performance.

By employing this management philosophy across state government, Cox says performance has improved by leaps and bounds — Herbert’s statement claimed that “efficiency in state government” has increased by 32% during her time as head of GOMB. Her citation from the Legislature called her a “world-renowned expert” in the theory and said she has “been instrumental in helping the state achieve new levels of operational success.”

The Legislature’s commendation praised her work during the pandemic, which it said “has equipped Utah to overcome challenges, lead with compassion and prepare for the future.”

“Kristen’s leadership and understanding has helped the state secure financial stability and has been a significant part in making Utah the best-managed state in the nation,” the citation went on. “Kristen has been a champion for valuing taxpayer dollars in Utah and advocates for a better quality of life for all Utahns.”

During her time with the state, Cox has also built a close relationship with Goldratt Consulting, a company that specializes in the Theory of Constraints. The firm has reaped millions of taxpayer dollars in state taxpayer dollars during Cox’s tenure, consulting in everything from the construction of a new state prison to how officials decide what products to put on liquor store shelves.

And her critics have wondered if she’s seen a personal benefit by spreading the Theory of Constraints through state government, noting that her private consulting business offers to export Utah’s success with the philosophy to other governments.

Cox has said she has not exploited her state position to boost her business, nor does she plan to use her time in the governor’s Cabinet as a springboard into national TOC consulting. She acknowledges she’s done some paid consulting during her time in office but says she did it on her own time in “very limited situations.”