Management Insights

Before the Flood: the Value of Mitigation

Billion-dollar natural disasters are becoming the norm in the United States. Since 1980, catastrophes of this magnitude have affected all 50 states, hitting five to 10 times each year. Floods are the most frequent and expensive disasters; from 1980 to 2013, they caused more than $260 billion in damage. In 2016 alone, 36 of the federal government's 46 disaster declarations involved floods or hurricanes; four of them cost more than $1 billion each.

That's the price of cleaning up a flood after it happens. But much can be done to mitigate damage and reduce costs before the rain begins. Forward-thinking policymakers and local officials are doing just that. READ MORE

Sexual Wrongdoing in the Government Workplace: the Leadership Challenge

We've seen more than enough sexual assault and harassment cases that were ignored for years or even decades. The Catholic Church scandal. Penn State and, more recently, Baylor University. The National Football League. The military service academies and the Coast Guard. Some local-government fire and police agencies. And that's just a starter list.

At the National Park Service, complaints of sexual harassment and assault go back more than 20 years. In one survey, 75 percent of female park police said they had experienced sexual harassment on the job. READ MORE

How Smaller Communities Can Survive in an Age of Disruption

The dual and related disruptions of technology and globalization have for the most part been good news for business productivity and for the large cities and metro areas that are well positioned to take advantage of them. Cities like Houston, Los Angeles and New York can readily offer a diverse and skilled workforce along with communications and transportation for global connections.

But as so many of our smaller cities and metro regions have so painfully learned, these forces are distributing their benefits in ways that are bad for middle-income jobs. Local producers are threatened as never before by competitors from a distance, mobilizing a protectionist populism that endangers the future for all. READ MORE

The Promise and Perils of ‘Moving the Boxes’

As part of a cost-cutting budget designed to avoid broad new taxes but protect service levels, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently proposed combining four state departments -- Human Services, Health, Drug and Alcohol, and Aging -- into one consolidated agency. In effect, the proposal would rewind reorganizations spanning decades that provided separate cabinet-level leadership to constituencies arguing that separation would best represent their specialized needs.

As a longtime public administrator, including a stint as Pennsylvania's secretary of public welfare in the 1990s, I've had my hand in a number of these reorganizations that critics often label as exercises in "moving the boxes." I've been involved in some that worked reasonably well and some that didn't. I've learned a few things, and I've heard all the arguments. READ MORE

Are Civil-Service Rules the Enemy of Employee Engagement?

This is an invitation. It was prompted by a recent Gallup report, "State of Local and State Government Workers' Engagement in the U.S.," which includes two lists. One shows public employees' level of engagement with their work in each state, while the second shows the percentage of state and local employees who are what Gallup calls "actively disengaged." Two maps that show the patterns, using different shading, caught my attention.

As the maps illustrate starkly, most of the states with the highest levels of public-employee engagement are in the South. Only Idaho and Wyoming break the pattern. The states with the highest levels of active disengagement -- workers who are so unhappy at work that they "undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish," as Gallup puts it -- are Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and my home state of Pennsylvania. All six of these states' levels of active disengagement are at 20 percent or higher. (A handful of states are not included because too few employees were surveyed.) READ MORE