Better, Faster, Cheaper

Do We Really Need to Keep Building Convention Centers?

Politically, it's almost irresistible. Revenue from hotel and other taxes, paid largely by people from other places, will be used to subsidize convention centers that lure those visitors to town to spend in hotels, stores and restaurants.

But a new book demonstrates a far less appealing reality. In "Convention Center Follies," Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, tells the tale of projects that continue to be built and expanded at a record pace even though they almost always fail to deliver the promised benefits. READ MORE

Culture Change at the Waterworks

Earlier this month, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority issued a 100-year, $350 million green bond to fund its Clean Rivers Project addressing overflows of sewage and stormwater into the region's waterways. The issuance leads the way as both the first municipal "century bond" and the first certified green bond in the United States. Innovative both in terms of finance and what it will do with the funds, the entity once known as D.C. WASA and rebranded as D.C. Water is demonstrating that it has changed much more than just its nickname.

D.C. Water has been on a steady path to greater professionalism and innovation for a decade. And across the board, from technology to finance to customer engagement, the utility reflects the organizational acumen and drive of its general manager, George Hawkins. READ MORE

Public Transit’s Costly Compensation Bonanza

It appears that a strike has been averted at the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), but the confrontation is just the latest reminder of what a sweet deal most unionized public-transit workers have.

Between base salary and overtime, the average LIRR employee makes nearly $84,000 annually, over 17 percent more than New York's subway and bus workers. LIRR workers' total compensation is 30 percent higher than for employees of Metro-North, which provides comparable commuter-rail service to Connecticut and upstate New York. READ MORE

Teacher Tenure and the Need for a Culture of Merit

A Los Angeles County judge's ruling last month that tenure and several other state laws governing the hiring and firing of teachers run afoul of the state constitution was a step in the right direction. But governments have more to do if they hope to attract the teaching force our country needs.

In his ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu found that 1 to 3 percent of California's teachers -- between 2,750 and 8,250 in all -- are "grossly ineffective" and that a single year with such a teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. The judge went on to note that attempting to fire such a teacher can take as long as a decade and cost between $50,000 and $450,000. That's because of the higher level of job protection that California teachers receive once they are granted tenure after a probationary period of less than two years. READ MORE

How Technology Can Stretch Infrastructure Dollars

The gap between what it would cost to properly maintain and upgrade America's infrastructure and what governments currently spend is vast. Technology alone can't bridge the gap, but the more we learn about its applications, the clearer it becomes that technology can significantly narrow that chasm.

One example comes from South Carolina, where an innovative bridge-monitoring system is producing real savings despite being in use on only eight bridges. Girder sensors installed on a bridge can measure its carrying capacity and be monitored 24/7. The monitors don't eliminate the need for inspections, but the technology does make the need less frequent. READ MORE