Can You Really Change the Culture of Government?

Great panel discussion this morning on a daunting topic: Is there really anything you can do to change the culture of state governments? Can you ...
October 1, 2009

Mgmt conf day 2 panel1

Great panel discussion this morning on a daunting topic: Is there really anything you can do to change the culture of state governments? Can you really evolve to a government that focuses on performance and results?

As moderator Jim Lientz, the COO for the state of Georgia, said, if you were to ask any average citizen on the street, the answer would be a resounding "no." But there are plenty of states with evidence to the contrary.

One of those states is Maryland, where Governor Martin O'Malley's StateStat approach has helped cement a new focus on accountability and results. The key to making it really happen, said O'Malley's chief of staff Matthew Gallagher, who sat on this morning's panel, is to change the public's expectations of their public leaders.

Gallagher said it was important for O'Malley to identify performance deficiencies and relay those not just to rank-and-file government employees, but to the public at large. One example? The state's 25,000 backlogged DNA samples. That meant hundreds of crimes that had gone unsolved because of government inaction. But that's also an easy-to-understand aspect of performance for both public employees and citizens.

But what about states that don't have that executive leadership on culture change? Diana Urban, the chair of the Results-Based Accountability Workgroup under the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, has helped shepherd a culture change that's been driven by the legislature. "We don't really have an executive on board" for results-based budgeting, she said. "So what we have done has really changed the conversation on the Appropriations Committee. The conversation has been elevated to, 'What are the results for the people of Connecticut? How are these programs getting us where we want to go?'"

One concrete example? Streamlining the data that agencies produce. Lisa Webb Sharpe, the direcotr of the Michigan Department of Management and Budget, said that her state provides 500 reports from 18 agencies every year. That overload makes the data useless, she said, because no one in the legislature could possibly read it.

Urban agreed: In Connecticut, she said agencies were routinely producing 185-page documents on how they were spending money. "And we were getting these all the time. How many legislators do you think read that?" But she worked to change that. Today, agencies deliver a three-page report clearly outlining how their performance ties in with established results-based accountability goals.

The idea of "CHANGING THE CULTURE OF GOVERNMENT" can be daunting and scary -- and it's easy to understand why a regular citizen on the street would think it can't be done. But when you talk about going from 185-page reports to 3-page reports with easy-to-read graphs, when you talk about clearing out a DNA backlog, you start to see the potential for really evolving government to the next level.