Management Insights

Technology’s Crucial Role in the Fight Against Hunger

National Geographic recently sent three photographers to explore hunger in the United States. It was an effort to give a face to a very troubling statistic: Even today, one-sixth of Americans do not have enough food to eat. Fifty million people in this country are "food insecure" -- having to make daily trade-offs among paying for food, housing or medical care -- and 17 million of them skip at least one meal a day to get by. When choosing what to eat, many of these individuals must make choices between lesser quantities of higher-quality food and larger quantities of less-nutritious processed foods, the consumption of which often leads to expensive health problems down the road.

This is an extremely serious, but not easily visible, social problem. Nor does the challenge it poses become any easier when poorly designed public-assistance programs continue to count the sauce on a pizza as a vegetable. The deficiencies caused by hunger increase the likelihood that a child will drop out of school, lowering her lifetime earning potential. In 2010 alone, food insecurity cost America $167.5 billion, a figure that includes lost economic productivity, avoidable health-care expenses and social-services programs. READ MORE

The Debate We’re Not Having over Fiscal Disparities

It is an article of faith in public finance that the best formula for providing efficient public services is to decentralize to the lowest level of government possible. State and local governments have greater incentives to economize and improve productivity because they are, in effect, in competition with one another for taxpayers and businesses.

While the theory is alluring, competition does not play out on a neutral field. Significant disparities exist in the tax bases and needs across states and localities. A 2007 study by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution using the latest data on comparative fiscal capacities across states and localities showed fiscal capacity varying by nearly 120 percent between Connecticut's state and local governments and those of Mississippi. Typically, jurisdictions with low tax bases also are those with high spending needs, which together add up to a low fiscal-capacity score. READ MORE

Government Problems and the Power of Prizes

Philadelphia has long had a crime problem. This year the city of Brotherly Love was ranked the 5th most dangerous big city in the country. Unfortunately, that wasn't an aberration -- Philadelphia has hovered between 4th and 7th most dangerous throughout the last decade.

This year Mayor Michael Nutter decided to try a different approach to cutting crime: launching a competition. The city crafted a $100,000 challenge called FastFWD and invited entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions to crime. "We wanted to open up the solution space," explains Story Bellows, who led the initiative for the city. "We were looking for solutions we didn't expect and didn't even know existed." READ MORE

Why Blame Is the Death of Reform

If you want to see what can go wrong with government reform, look at this editorial cartoon.

Notice first the cartoonist's point of view: that it is condescending and counterproductive for "drive-by" experts to criticize hard-working government employees (in this case, teachers) for their performance. READ MORE

When Performance Measurement Goes Wrong in Government

Recent revelations that employees at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals falsified performance data on patient-appointment wait times in order to receive larger bonuses have turned the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), once considered at the forefront of federal efforts at performance management, into a national joke. While it is not known how widespread this practice was, it is a reminder that it does not take many bad actors to ruin the reputation of an entire agency.

The VA scandal comes on the heels of a number of high-profile cases of education administrators and teachers cheating (or encouraging cheating) on standardized tests, making it all the more worrying to those of us who advocate reforms centered on performance management. In Atlanta, the school superintendent, as well as 35 teachers and principals, resigned in the wake of a scandal allegedly driven by pressure placed on teachers to falsify test-score results. Educators in cities including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., also have been caught up in cheating allegations involving standardized tests. READ MORE