When Training Goes Away, When Fiscal Fixes Backfire, and a Novel Traffic Solution
Plus: The return of the Manager's Reading List, and more management news
There's ample evidence that training has been cut back at all levels of government. But we were hoping that B&G readers could help us get our hands around the outcomes of these fiscal decisions. Our assumption is that less training creates a less effective and less efficient workforce. But we don't have any real evidence. So we'd really like to know, in your experience, has that been true? We'll let you know what the responses tell us.
Email us with any thoughts you might have!
What is a state or locality supposed to do when the cure for fiscal disease also makes the disease worse? We've been looking at examples of this phenomenon, and they appear to be increasingly common. Take, for example, legitimate efforts to reduce government jobs in order to balance the budget. Sounds like good management. But in terms of unemployment numbers, those public-sector positions aren't any different from the jobs in other sectors that states are trying desperately to expand. So cutting government workers means higher unemployment and fewer income tax dollars.
Or think about health care. There's general agreement that it's critical for states and cities to cut down on health-care expenses. But in many places, health care is also one of the few really thriving industries. Cutting back on government spending takes fuel away from that valuable fire. What's a government to do?
A few weeks back, we wrote an item about the conflicting goals of pursuing a smooth flow of traffic through downtown areas and the desire to make it a little harder to easily zip through downtowns to reach suburban malls. One B&G reader suggested that technology might be a way to reconcile those two opposing goals. Writes Doug Townsend, director of technology services in Medford, Ore.: "Why could we not deploy electronic speed signs which change speed limits as warranted? For example, when commuters are traveling to and from work downtown, the speeds could be higher than between these times, when shoppers and visitors conduct business and visit destinations of choice in the downtown area."
One of our favorite semi-regular features in the B&G Report has been our Manager's Reading List. Periodically, we put out a call for more suggestions of books that could be of interest and use to public sector managers. So if there's any reading you've done lately that's helped you in managing your job, life, government or anything else, please let us know. Don't hesitate to include books that aren't directly tailored to government managers but can still be useful. (For example, one book that's been recommended to us many times by government folks is Moneyball.)
While you're thinking about that, we thought we'd highlight some recommendations from a discussion we found on the excellent listserve EvalTalk. (The discussion was targeted for people in the evaluations field; we steered clear of the recommendations that veered toward the very technical.)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Choice, Values and Frames by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky
- Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain by Antonio R. Damasio
- Better by Atul Gawande
- The Consultant with Pink Hair by Cal Harrison
- Archaeology, History and Custer's Last Battle by Richard Fox
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Read the archived Manager's Reading List recommendations.
Rutgers University's Alan Rosenthal knows as much or more about state legislatures than anyone else we can think of. So his comments at the recent National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting were of particular interest. One factoid really struck us. According to Rosenthal, 70 percent of governors said they consult with legislative leaders "all the time" or "often," when formulating their agenda. Maybe this sounds like good news to some, but when you flip the stat on its head -- meaning that 30 percent don't consult with legislative leaders all the time or often -- it's a little troublesome. That's 15 governors who don't regularly communicate with legislators. Most of the advice we've read about getting action on an executive branch agenda calls for getting legislative buy-in. So we have to wonder what's going on in those 15 states.
We're generally dubious about the vast savings that cities, states and counties often claim they'll save by cutting down on waste and fraud. But our only quibble has been with the huge numbers that are frequently bandied about. No question that there are certainly dramatic savings to be had by curtailing waste and fraud.
One way that many states are trying to address this issue is by toughening and enacting whistle-blower laws, which make it far easier for public employees to report instances of waste and fraud they run across, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. So far, in 2012, according to PEER, "five states have toughened whistleblower laws for public employees and contract workers. In the prior two years, another 20 states enacted stronger whistleblower laws." For more details, see a detailed analysis of every state's laws on the PEER website.
"A reporter asked recently, 'What keeps you up at night?' I replied that I generally sleep well, but if I ever do have trouble, I don't have to count sheep. I count all the states I'm glad I'm not the governor of." -- Sen. Mitch McConnell
Measuring school performance is a tricky, contentious effort. One of the variables sometimes used is attendance. You'd think that would be easy to measure and could lead to worthwhile analysis when attendance rates are inexplicably low. But as we've long ago learned, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
According to a late-July article in the Dayton Daily News, Ohio's state auditor's office "is launching a statewide investigation into how school districts, charter schools and the Ohio Department of Education report student attendance data after questionable practices surfaced in three districts."
"It appears that attendance report rigging is not a localized problem with Columbus Public Schools, but that it may be more systemic," Auditor Dave Yost wrote to the Ohio Board of Education, according to the newspaper.
How do you rig these numbers? One way, found in one of the Ohio districts, was to falsely report withdrawing students during the school year. A withdrawn student can't be absent, of course, which helps attendance rates dance higher.
One size rarely fits all. As we've commented in the past, the use of furloughs to save money has not always been successful. Interestingly, it appears as though they're particularly unhelpful when used in prisons. Here's the deal, according to a report by Oregon's audits division: Since prisons are necessarily 24/7/365 affairs, and since a high degree of safety must be maintained at all times, furloughs for one employee frequently translate into overtime for another one. Net result: No savings.
Congratulations to Hawaii. The state's legislative website has won the 2012 Online Democracy Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Take a look.