If you could make one New Year's resolution for your organization, what would it be? Spend less time bickering? Balance the budget without gimmicks? Cut turnover rates? Email us with your thoughts.
How long does it take to publish a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)? According to the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, the time varied quite a lot in fiscal 2010. Here are some interesting facts from NASACT:
New York had the speediest process. The state required just 114 days to get its CAFR out. Utah and Michigan tied for second place, with 141 days.
At the other extreme, Hawaii needed 469 days to complete its year-end books. (Mathematically-inclined readers will note that actually pushed Hawaii into the next annum.)
Tennessee took 272 days — still pretty high — but it lopped 130 days off the same effort in fiscal year 2009.
Indiana, by contrast, needed 57 days more to get its CAFR out in 2010 than in 2009 — for a total of 240.
Communities in search of energy savings can find some help from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The organization has put together a downloadable tool for policymakers and other stakeholders. According to the ACEEE website, "Users can customize inputs to reflect local characteristics and tailor policy designs to meet their needs. The tool calculates estimates for energy savings, cost savings, pollution, jobs, and other outcomes resulting from selected policies over a time period designated by the user."
More on employee evaluations. A few weeks back, we asked B&G readers for their opinions about performance appraisals as a means to create the best possible workforce. We've received a good number of very thoughtful responses (and more keep coming in). The opinions varied widely. In the next edition of the B&G report, we'll be offering a special section delving into some of the more interesting comments.
For the moment, we thought you'd be interested in excerpts from one email that took an interesting approach to its critique of performance measures. It was written by Richard G. Marley, the public works director of Decatur, Ill.:
"It has been my observation that the best employees are those who are self-motivated. They have internal locus of control. The worst employees are those who need constant guidance and are always blaming someone else or work conditions for their poor performance. They always have external locus of control.
"Performance evaluations have no impact on poor performers because they believe their performance would be good if some other person or factor were not to blame. Good employees worry a bit over performance evaluations because they are concerned that they will not measure up to expectations. If a good employee who is self-motivated is criticized in a performance evaluation, they may stew over the comments for weeks. It is possible to turn a good employee into a bad employee with a few poorly chosen words."
Governments at all levels are frequently risk-adverse organizations. Better not to stick your neck out, the thinking goes, than to have it chopped off if something goes awry. On the face of it, this is a flawed approach. And we were struck by a very different model used in the private sector — specifically at Pixar, the innovative creator of films like Toy Story and Cars, and the winner of 26 Academy Awards.
According to economist Tim Harford, in his book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, Pixar doesn't try to stomp out any chance of errors. The company just fixes them very quickly. Harford emphasizes the fact that Pixar has created a workplace in which dissent is encouraged. This isn't easy. Nobody wants to be criticized. But if there is no ongoing oversight, there's a greater chance of a small error escalating into a major problem.
(Our thanks to the Big Think blog for bringing the Pixar example to our attention.)
"When I was the [attorney general], everyone believed me, but as a legislator, nobody believes me." -- Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, as quoted in NCSL's The Thicket.
Fireworks, flowers and frivolous spending: Ever since the Great Recession acquired that name, city and county managers have been increasingly hesitant to spend money on pure quality-of-life events like Fourth of July fireworks, public gardens or arts groups. The argument is simple: Would you rather provide some pretty stuff for citizens or pay a teacher or firefighter?
That's the kind of question that seems to have an automatic answer. But we were inspired by a piece in the December issue of Public Management to muster another argument in favor of the non-necessities. Let's say you're in the market for a house and are looking at two close-to-identical homes in two nearby towns. One community provides a whole variety of attractive amenities. The other doesn't. Do you think that might influence your decision? And if you do, don't you think that the amenities might actually help keep housing prices up, thus bringing in more property taxes? If you think this chain of events is sensible, then is it possible that those Fourth of July fireworks actually bring in more money than they cost?
Questions like this need the kind of rigor that a cost-benefit analysis can provide. And we certainly haven't done one. But we sure think the idea is well worth considering before the budget axe is swung.
Interested in employment rates by state and by county? The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an interactive map that we can only describe as super cool. It starts with a map of the country. You can use that map to see a number of different things about each state: number of people employed, percent change in employment, average weekly wage and division between employers in the federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector. You can also find statistics by industry.
But, as late-night knife salesmen like to say, that's not all. Click on each state and you see a county-by-county breakdown, which allows you to see the same variety of data among the counties. Like we said, super cool.
Some of you may be sick and tired of being told how little value there is in what government produces. We sure are. But if you want a potent rejoinder, we have some good reading for you: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. We're not suggesting that you put a little arsenic in the naysayers' tea. Rather, the story this book tells is one of the most striking public-sector success stories we've ever heard.
In brief, in the first part of the 20th century, a cascade of toxic chemicals had become increasingly prevalent, thanks to industrialization. That meant bad things for people inhaling or ingesting the more and more widely used toxins. But in 1918, under the leadership of New York's first trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, the city began a much-emulated effort to protect its citizens, saving untold lives at the time and for subsequent generations.
Though there was no such thing as a Governing magazine at the time, we'd like to name Norris as a Public Official of the Year for 1918.
Some weeks ago, we published an item relating to a series of cost figures for the San Diego County Water Authority's San Vicente tunnel and pipeline system. As we mentioned in the piece, our information had come from an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Turns out that the newspaper had misinterpreted some critical information, making the situation appear far more bleak than it actually was. We encourage you to read the paper's corrected article.
As you'll see, among the problems with the original piece was an apples-to-oranges comparison between original estimates of construction costs only, and later figures that included another project as well as both construction and non-construction costs.
More accurate figures, which the San Diego paper has now published, show that "Overall costs for the tunnel project were originally projected to be $230.7 million, and came in at $341.5 million, for an increase of $110.8 million." In addition, "The pumping facilities were originally projected to cost $76.6 million, and came in at $109.7 million, for an increase of $33.1 million. Adding the increases of the two related projects together, then, their costs rose $143.9 million. That's a 47 percent increase over the original projection, not the 185 percent increase portrayed in the headline."
It's not like missing by 47 percent is anything to boast about, but it's certainly not anywhere near the outrageous figures originally cited in the Union-Tribune.