Better, Faster, Cheaper

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

'Pay for Success': A Better Way to Deliver Social Services?

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but I suspect that most people would find it a little easier to take if they knew their tax dollars were funding the achievement of concrete public goals. That's the idea behind "pay-for-success" programs that have been launched during the last year in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York state and are being developed or considered in several others.

Under these programs, government outlines a set of specific goals in areas such as mental illness, homelessness or preventive health care. Private investors and philanthropic organizations then finance the work of nonprofits to deliver cost-effective, evidence-based social services on behalf of the state. The investors receive "success payments" only if the desired results are achieved. READ MORE

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