Better, Faster, Cheaper

How to Save Billions on Public Construction

A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed column called for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, which sets a floor for wages on federally funded construction projects. Thirty-two states have their own prevailing-wage laws, and while the goal of making sure that those working on public construction projects are fairly compensated is too important for the laws to be repealed, some simple reforms for how prevailing wages are calculated could save state and local taxpayers billions of dollars.

According to a 2008 study by Suffolk University's Beacon Hill Institute, state and local governments spend about $300 billion annually on public construction. Labor accounts for about half the cost of those projects. How each of the states with prevailing-wage laws calculates the wage, which various by region within states, is determined by state law. READ MORE

The Implacable Resistance to Charter Schools

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other advocates have developed an ambitious plan to place nearly half of Los Angeles' public-school students in charter schools within eight years. To fund the nearly half-billion-dollar effort, backers plan to tap Broad and several other foundations, along with a number of area billionaires.

Given the powerful, well-funded interests behind the plan, no one would describe it as the kind of grassroots effort the Founding Fathers had in mind when they dreamed of a dynamic democracy driven by engaged citizens. But you can't help but wonder if L.A.'s charter advocates arrived at their plan after studying Massachusetts' experience. READ MORE

A Transit System’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

It's been a tough year for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, and many of Metro's wounds have been self-inflicted. But the problems experienced by the transit system, whose subways are the nation's second-busiest, may finally have unleashed the forces needed to turn it around.

Anyone who doubts the toll that Metro's troubles can take on the Washington, D.C., region need only look at the paralysis and economic losses that ensued when the Boston area's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority collapsed last winter under the weight of record snowfall and years of skimping on maintenance. READ MORE

How New York City Is Mainstreaming Data-Driven Governance

In the early days of online government, cities at the vanguard rightly bragged about taking on "e-gov" as a project. Within just a few years, though, e-gov had moved from a set of individual projects to an ingrained part of innovation and customer service. Now, cities around the country are working to make their immense quantities of data more public and actionable. As these initiatives take hold, the success stories of data analytics will, like e-gov, move from the anecdotal to the mainstream.

That process is well on its way in New York City, an early leader along with Chicago in using big (and little) data to drive innovation. New York is looking to leverage data science more broadly and deeply into existing institutions in an ambitious bid to remake governance. READ MORE

The Pay-for-Performance Approach to Reducing Recidivism

There's no doubt that privatization can save money and provide other benefits. But it can just as easily turn into a boondoggle. If done right, pay-for-performance contracts can help governments end up in the former category.