Better, Faster, Cheaper

The Tricky Issue of Private Prisons

The Justice Department's recent announcement that the federal government would phase out contracts with privately operated prisons has refocused attention on the issue of privatization in the corrections realm and beyond. The bottom line is that governments at all levels would do well to avoid knee-jerk reactions and consider each privatization proposal on its own merits.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that private prisons, in which the federal government began housing some prisoners in 1997, aren't producing substantial savings and offer fewer rehabilitative services, such as education and job training, than Bureau of Prisons facilities provide. READ MORE

The Chief Data Officer’s Path to Success

Many state and local government leaders have begun to embrace the promise of harnessing data to improve their jurisdictions' operations, fight fraud and better serve citizens. Examples abound: One state agency, for example, now can track spikes in patient symptoms to signal a possible epidemic -- or even a bioterrorist attack. Several cities now use algorithms to analyze crime data to predict where crime may occur next. And many revenue departments are fighting fraud and boosting tax compliance through data and analytics.

But for every successful data and analytics initiative, many other government agencies struggle with the most fundamental element: capturing accurate and timely data. Poor data leads to poor analytics, erroneous conclusions and bad policy. READ MORE

The Growing Urgency for Serious Public Pension Reforms

In June, I wrote that public-sector pension plans were facing an existential crisis. Even though many states have adopted reforms, a sampling by the Center for State and Local Excellence of systems that cover 90 percent of the nation's state and local government pension-plan members found that in the last year the plans had on average of 74 percent of the money needed to fund their liabilities -- only a slight uptick from the previous year's figure of 73 percent.

That news was particularly troubling in light of a McKinsey Global Institute report earlier this year suggesting that pension funds were likely to see lower investment returns going forward. Those McKinsey folks are looking awfully smart: A recent report from the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service found 20-year annualized returns for U.S. public pension systems at their lowest point in the nearly 15 years the service has tracked the statistic. READ MORE

Managing Marijuana: the Role of Data-Driven Regulation

When Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in 2014, state officials knew they would have to quickly develop a robust system to safely and securely control the flow of the drug across the state, and they managed to do just that with the help of advanced tracking and data analytics. What Colorado is doing provides an impressive example of an emerging, more effective regulation model.

To deal with the consequences of marijuana's legalization, Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Andrew Freedman as director of marijuana coordination, and the legislature created the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) in the state's Department of Revenue. MED drew on the state's experience with its preexisting medical marijuana regulations, examining what had worked previously to regulate and inventory controlled substances. READ MORE

GIS’s Evolving Promise for Local Government

When Washington Dulles International Airport opened in 1962 in Loudoun County, Va., the county was mostly rural. It was only after local industry expanded to accommodate the needs of this major global travel hub that Loudoun started becoming the dynamic community it is today.

GIS has proven to be a comprehensive tool for managing the county's growth. What started in 1986 to automate and house the county's various maps has evolved into a system that maintains and stores a vast array of up-to-date spatial data that is readily accessible to the public and is integrated with the county's other information systems. Over these past 30 years, we have learned a few best practices in evolving to what we think is a model for smart communities everywhere. READ MORE