Making Government Better in Angry Times

To survive these challenging times, leaders must embrace a relentless commitment to better, faster and cheaper government.
by | May 7, 2010

For those of us committed to making government better, these are challenging times.

The polls inform us that the American people have never been more highly dissatisfied with their political institutions. Media headlines feature stories of political infighting and public disappointment.

Governments are saddled with debt. We are mired in the politics of blame, seemingly more interested in battling one another than in moving America forward. Government is spending too much and delivering too little. Angry citizens see the public sector as highly wasteful, and many are questioning the health of our democracy.

To be fair, there is much to be angry about.

But this generalization is dangerous and wrong. Contrary to the stereotype, everyday public employees embrace innovations that produce better, faster and cheaper government. Many of these public officials, as well as the nonprofit and for-profit organizations with whom they partner, are continuously developing creative approaches to deal with difficult challenges.

Too often, however, the best innovations don't spread. Even when an Indianapolis agency does something innovative, the practice does not necessarily get adopted in Louisville, let alone New York City or Chicago. The marketplace for sharing new ideas, products and services through government simply doesn't work as well as it could. As a result, government doesn't perform as well as it should, often consuming more in resources than it delivers in value.

Today, the Ash Center at Harvard's Kennedy School and Governing magazine are delighted to launch Better, Faster, Cheaper, a marketplace for ideas that will spread the adoption of creative public sector solutions. The Better, Faster, Cheaper section of the Governing site aspires to be the first place public officials will look to learn about innovations that can help them weather the fiscal storm, stretching scarce dollars to deliver vital services.

As mayor of Indianapolis, I made a concentrated effort to steal good ideas from everywhere -- the private sector, other cities, even overseas. Over time, we got pretty good at the process of borrowing breakthroughs from others, tweaking them for local conditions and then deploying them to help solve community problems.

Finding innovative practices wasn't always easy, however. In the daily crunch to deal with the crisis du jour, it was hard to find the time to identify the best practices and cutting-edge technologies. It is my hope that this site will aggregate those ideas, and spread the stories of governments that are embracing positive change.

This site has assembled an impressive lineup of thought leaders from the world of government management and efficiency, experts in the fields of social welfare, the environment, transportation and more.

A variety of tools, from outsourcing to technology and social networking, will be reviewed, their application explored in areas ranging from crime control to street sweeping.

But whatever expertise our contributors have is dwarfed by the collective wisdom of our readers. Our goal is to create a community of practice, a place where public officials, academics and private citizens can share what works and what doesn't.

The best way to manage through the crisis? Embrace a relentless commitment to better faster and cheaper government that innovates continuously in the service of citizens. Every budget, every process, every policy must be subjected to ruthless scrutiny.

We can do better. Our future depends on it.

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