Better, Faster, Cheaper

Detroit's Cruise to Nowhere

Those who doubt the ability of some state and local government officials to make harebrained investments with tax dollars should turn their attention to Detroit, where the local port authority's 2011 construction of a public dock and terminal is making their counterparts who invest in sports stadiums and convention centers look like Warren Buffett.

When the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority built the $22 million Carl M. Levin facility, named for Michigan's longtime former U.S. senator, the idea was to entice ships from the growing Great Lakes cruise market to dock there. The good news is that dockings are up; the bad news is that they're holding steady at one so far this year after coming in at zero for all of 2014. READ MORE

IT and the Metrics That Really Matter

There's little doubt that government's already substantial investment in information technology is going to continue to grow as public agencies look for ways to streamline processes, engage with citizens and achieve social outcomes. Chief information officers are going to be required to show not only that IT funds are being expended effectively but also that these resources are driving outcomes that government and the public care about. Consider this question: If you were to invest $1 in a parks program and $1 in the IT department, which would provide a greater return?

Questions like that are going to take on even more importance with the emergence of new technologies (think about drones and self-driving cars), new platforms (consider Bitcoin and the future of digital currency), and new tools (such as predictive analytics and the emerging field of algorithmic regulation). READ MORE

Why Trust in Local Government Should Be Even Higher Than It Is

Local-government officials pride themselves on the fact that their work produces a higher level of trust than any other level of government enjoys. In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said that they trusted their local governments a "great deal" or a "fair amount," even though the trust level for government in general fell to a meager 24 percent that year.

That level of trust people feel for their local governments shouldn't be surprising: I see an amazing level of professionalism that would stir even higher numbers if only the public could see the effort and analysis that their communities' public servants put into improving results. READ MORE

Automatic Benefits: Reducing Red Tape, Improving Lives

In 2005, California instituted a pilot program called ReadyReturn in which 50,000 taxpayers received an already-completed state tax return. The state compiled the returns based on data it already had from employers and banks. A survey of ReadyReturn participants found that 90 percent said they had saved time, and the ReadyReturn approach to tax filing has now been adopted by the state as standard practice.

In a 2006 paper, Professor Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago (later chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors), made the case for the "Simple Return." Same idea. Goolsbee argued that if the IRS pre-filled the 1040 for the some 40 percent of Americans who take the standard deduction and do not itemize, it would save 225 million hours of time and more than $2 billion a year in tax-preparation fees while increasing revenue to the IRS from reduced errors. Alas, Goolsbee's proposal is still aspirational. READ MORE

A Gathering Revolution in Regulation

In cities around the country, we're seeing the beginning of fundamental change in how governments discharge their regulatory responsibilities. In some cases, this is driven by technology as app-empowered consumers evolve from passive captives of regulated services into an active force for change. In other cases, the changes are originating from within governments as they look for more efficient ways to regulate health and safety.

In recent weeks, for example, Uber unleashed a digital consumer salvo, employing email, social media and TV ads attacking New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed cap on the number of ride-sharing vehicles. It is one of those relatively rare times when consumers, rather than just protected industries, affect regulatory policy. Such an event could not have happened in a pre-social-networked world. Back in 1995, when as mayor of Indianapolis I took on the taxi cartel, only the Urban League, which wanted to enhance service in urban neighborhoods and improve opportunities for minority businesses, joined me in the battle. No consumers found a way to make their voices heard. READ MORE