Pothole Problems, Streamlining Park Amenities and Ironic Layoffs in South Carolina

Public-sector management news you should know.
May 9, 2013

We just chatted with a very successful public-sector manager who left her job because her boss advised her to get some private-sector experience on her resume for long-term career advancement.

How important is it for public-sector employees to work in the private sector? Tell us what you think.

We’re working on a column about the difficulty of measuring performance in some specific areas. One example that comes up frequently is budget offices. Why? Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget for Carroll County, Md., offered a sensible thought when we reached out to him:

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“The problem is we have different customers with often incongruent needs. Who are you trying to satisfy? We have to satisfy different groups. We have a board of commissioners and our role is also helping the line agencies to accomplish what they should be doing and we have some responsibility to the public. Doing what the commissioners need may be a negative for a line agency. Doing what’s right for a line agency may be perceived by the public as a negative.”

San Diego has been busily repairing some 30,000 potholes, which sounds like a good thing, but how efficiently is the process being managed? According to a recent audit cited in the U-T San Diego newspaper, the city has no way to determine the average response time or to track which areas need repair the most.

The report tried to do some math with the troublesome data provided and estimated that average repair time has gone from eight days in 2011 to 15 days in 2012. What’s more, the report said that in the absence of solid, standardized data to locate unreported potholes, regions receive different levels of repair service.

An audit from the secretary of state’s office in Oregon has led to the wagging of an alarming number of disappointed fingers at the state’s higher education system. With tuition ballooning its way into the academic sky, such a report couldn’t be more timely. Here are just a few of the significant points it raises. Other states should take heed to see if any apply to them:

  • “Clear governance structures and goals can reduce inefficiency, limit duplication of efforts and improve accountability. Rather than ensuring effectiveness and efficiency, Oregon’s current education governance structure risks creating confusion and a lack of accountability. ... There are three sets of overlapping performance measures with different reporting structures. As a result, the actual relationship between performance and funding is unclear, as is the entity responsible for monitoring performance and approving funding.”
  • “Debt information is lacking for many students. We found that student debt for OUS [Oregon University System] graduates was on average 9 percent higher than the national average for the classes of 2005 through 2010, and increased about 6 percent over inflation during the past six years. However, these debt figures only represent the students who start as freshmen and graduate from an OUS university; the debt for those who do not graduate or start at another institution is not known.”
  • “Despite the increased tuition rates and higher spending by universities, educational spending per student has declined. The student-faculty ratio has increased from 25 in 2001-02 to 27 in 2010-11. While universities have improved administrative headcount ratios, current financial tracking and reporting makes it difficult to understand how many university resources are devoted to educational activities.”

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.” -- Orville Wright, one of the inventors of the airplane.

We’ve been fond of Chicago ever since our days at Northwestern. Still, it comes as a surprise to us how many of our friends and neighbors are quick to offer accolades for the Windy City.

One of the reasons, we speculate, is that Chicago is a remarkably attractive big city with flower plantings all over the place. And now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced a five-year plan to fix up hundreds of playgrounds. It seems to us like this is a pretty cheap way to help attract families to various neighborhoods.

The plans’ goal is hardly an easy one, but seems thoroughly worthwhile to us from both humane and economic perspectives: “Every child will have access to a clean, safe and vibrant playground in their neighborhood.”

While we’re talking about government-funded amenities, consider the proposition under consideration in Arizona to put out one master contract for a variety of in-park functions like gift shops, rental businesses, restaurants and other services. Some state leaders believe that Arizona’s underfunded parks could save a good piece of change if this practice is put into effect. But we wonder whether this long-term reduction in competition will somehow wind up costing the state more -- not less.

It seemed rather ironic to hear that the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce decided to lay off 100 employees starting in July. The capacity to work with fewer employees has largely been driven by the agency’s decision to get rid of one-on-one help for clients. Meanwhile, the agency has upgraded its computer services so that clients can access services online.

This may be a useful way to save some cash, but reducing unemployment this way adds scores of new people to the unemployment rolls. Beyond the fact that we thought there was an interesting irony here, there’s a serious question to be answered: Will online services help people get jobs as effectively as real human beings?

Until now, people who were interested in the specifics behind Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) had to get themselves a CD-ROM from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). This was sure better than the days when individuals needed paper reports about specific rules. But as late-night commercials for slicer-dicers are prone to say: “All that has changed.”

GASB has created an online version of all these materials, dubbed GARS Online (for Governmental Accounting Research system). According to a GASB release, GARS Online provides efficient, effective and easy access to all U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and related literature for state and local governments. GARS Online is available through four service plans to accommodate the varying needs of different stakeholders.

Are you on LinkedIn? We’ve found this particular social network very useful and often use it to expand a bit more on some issues that come up in the B&G Report. So, if you are on LinkedIn, we encourage you to link with us. You might get something valuable out of it.

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