Better, Faster, Cheaper

The Worst Way to Manage a Transportation Project

The recent news that the estimated cost of an ongoing Boston-area subway-line extension has risen from $1.4 billion to nearly $2 billion surprised exactly no one. The more-than-two-decade history leading up to this most recent cost overrun contains a lifetime's worth of cautionary tales for state and local governments.

Almost everyone reading this should have some familiarity with Boston's "Big Dig." After all, you probably helped pay for it. The project included taking down an unsightly elevated roadway and running it underground, extending the Massachusetts Turnpike to Boston's Logan Airport and constructing a bridge over the Charles River. When it was finally completed in 2007 (nine years late), the original $2.8 billion price tag had swollen to $14.6 billion, more than a quarter of it covered by federal taxpayers. READ MORE

The Core Features of the Data-Powered City

By 2050, more than 75 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas. But without substantive changes in governance, city halls will be unable to meet the needs of this growing population.

Infusing government operations with the latest technological advances is no panacea, but it suggests the most promising way out of business-as-usual governance. The data-driven revolution cannot come soon enough. Too many local governments are mired in century-old, rule-bound structures that stifle collaboration and problem solving. And citizens, whose trust in government is at an all-time low, have little sense that they can play a role in the social fabric of their cities. READ MORE

When Citizens Decide How Public Money Is Spent

Inspired by successful efforts in Brazil and other countries, several American communities have undertaken pilot efforts to allow citizens to directly decide how public funds are spent in their neighborhoods. However, one of the biggest concerns raised by critics of this approach is that not enough citizens actually participate to make the efforts meaningful and legitimate.

How to address this concern? Expanding the use of social media in the participatory budgeting process holds promise, according to a new report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government. READ MORE

A Better Way to Manage Government’s Underutilized Property

Government owns 10 to 30 percent of the footprint of most cities, and the public sector is the nation's largest property owner. But property management is hardly a core function of government, so it's not surprising that many jurisdictions don't even have an accurate inventory of their own property. The data is often scattered across the various agencies in charge of different parcels.

Much public land is underutilized and expensive for taxpayers. The Office of Management and Budget estimates, for example, that it costs about $1.7 billion per year to maintain and secure underutilized federal properties. For municipal governments, there's also foregone property tax revenue and wasted opportunities to use the land to support local economic development. READ MORE

Public Employees’ Pension Dilemma

The story has played out repeatedly in recent years. As unfunded pension liabilities rise, financially stressed local governments seek to move employees toward 401(k)-type retirement systems to get out from under crippling long-term commitments, but public employee unions fight to maintain their defined-benefit plans.

As the municipal landscape becomes more fiscally precarious, public employees might want to rethink the traditional strategy. READ MORE