Better, Faster, Cheaper

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

An Essential Guide to the ‘Stat’ Revolution in Government

The concept of the "Stat" program" -- created by Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani in New York City and taken to new levels by Martin O'Malley as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland -- appears in a variety of forms. While some state and local governments merely appropriate the "-Stat" suffix as an inoculation against public complaints, others pursue this performance-management technique rigorously in a way that enhances public accountability and drives organizational improvement.

PerformanceStat book coverTranslating performance measurement into true productivity gains is the subject of a new book of intensely relevant case studies by my Harvard Kennedy School colleague Robert Behn, The PerformanceStat Potential: a Leadership Strategy for Producing Results. Each of its 16 crisply composed chapters stands alone -- indeed, this book is a veritable encyclopedia on the management practice that has come to saturate the public sector since its first incarnation two decades as the New York Police Department's CompStat. Then and now, as Behn points out, its success depends on four fundamental principles: "accurate and timely intelligence shared by all"; "rapid deployment of resources"; "effective tactics and strategies"; and "relentless follow-up and assessment." Behn is aggressively comprehensive in teasing out the key operational components that spur these aphorisms into action -- and produce results. READ MORE

City Finances and the Promise of Data Visualization

For local governments, financial reporting is about more than simply ensuring that the numbers add up. Public officials also have to be able to communicate the data in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to target audiences, whether it's city officials making decisions about resource allocation or voters making decisions about whether to trust their governments.

That's the challenge for municipalities: How can local governments provide a comprehensive, yet accessible medium for distributing budgetary and other financial data? And from a practical standpoint, how can city leaders make this happen with limited resources and staff capacity? READ MORE

Taking the Bypass on Transportation Funding

As is usual when the weather's warm, the "Road Work Ahead" signs are everywhere. In Washington, though, not much of that kind of work has been going on, at least on Capitol Hill, with Congress again fumbling with how to provide money for transportation projects across the country.

Over the summer, the Highway Trust Fund, which is the source of federal funding for state highway projects, nearly went broke once again. As the end of the congressional session closed in, lawmakers did finally agree on a stopgap 10-month, $10.8 billion measure to avoid the job losses and other economic harm that would have resulted from stopping the flow of federal money during the height of road-construction season. READ MORE