Management Insights

A ‘Whole of Government’ Approach to Social Problems

Homelessness among military veterans has long been an endemic problem at the intersection of multiple public-health disciplines. Issues from substance abuse to housing prices to mental health care to re-training workers to disability access all contribute to veterans' homelessness, and no one government agency -- or level of government -- owns the problem.

In 2007, veterans made up one in every four homeless people in the United States. Since 2010, however, veterans' homelessness has fallen by fully half. Thousands of families a year now receive combined HUD-VA vouchers, and as of the beginning of this year the country was down to less than 40,000 homeless veterans. More than a dozen cities, from Boston to Las Cruces, N.M., to Mobile, Ala., have declared that they have ended chronic homelessness among veterans. READ MORE

Civic Collaboration’s Essential Elements

When it comes to improving cities, not much is certain, but of two things I am sure: The secret s lies in collaboration -- getting numerous independent interests working in coordinated ways on big problems. And one of the secrets of effective collaboration is knowing what each partner is good at so that each can contribute from its strengths.

If I'm right about this, then we need to think deeply about what each participant can bring to a collaboration. And we should begin with government, since it will be inevitably be central to almost every ambitious civic undertaking. READ MORE

Why Public-Sector Pay Is a Mess

The years since the recession have not been good ones for public employees. Talent was lost and pay levels for the most critical, skilled occupations have fallen steadily behind those of the private sector. Morale took a hit and in many jurisdictions has not recovered. Public service continues to attract young workers, but there have been reports of early turnover attributable to dissatisfaction with the work experience.

One measure of that dissatisfaction is the state of employees' engagement with their jobs, and here the news is not good. Gallup reports that 71 percent of state and local government employees are not engaged and that, troublingly, fully 17 percent are "actively disengaged." Those are averages. Currently I am working with a public organization where the number of employees who are actively disengaged exceeds 40 percent. The way this employer has administered pay is central to the dissatisfaction. READ MORE

When Professionalism and Political Ideology Collide

How should government's professionals respond when they are told to slash spending with no regard for consequences? I retired in 2010 from a 38-year career in government. Over all those years, I never needed to contemplate, much less answer, that question. But when I talk with current public-sector practitioners, I am asked it almost as a matter of routine.

Anti-government sentiment is now so prevalent that it is commonplace for career government administrators to find themselves working for elected officials who disdain the longstanding and traditional idea, much less any process, of weighing the costs and benefits of government spending. These elected officials want to reduce the size and scope of government institutions as an end in itself. How should conscientious career professionals, who have dedicated their careers to obtaining benefits for the public from government spending, respond when they are directed to disregard what they have always striven to accomplish? READ MORE

The Enduring Myth That Government Should Be Run Like a Business

There were many and varied reasons behind the election of Donald Trump as president, but certainly one argument, heard time and again, contributed to his appeal: that the federal government was such a mess that the solution was to run it "like a business" and that the way to accomplish that was to elect a successful corporate executive. Now that the presidential transition is upon us, many of the people being selected or mentioned as cabinet appointees have stronger ties to the private sector than the public sector.

Trump is not the first politician, by any means, to benefit from this this claim. Numerous successful state and local candidates have made similar cases during their runs for office. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's argument in his successful gubernatorial campaign centered around his business success. Three decades before that, fast-food magnate John Y. Brown successfully argued that he should be elected governor of Kentucky so that he could run the state like he had run Kentucky Fried Chicken. READ MORE