Management Insights

The Political Lure of Spending Less in the Present

The advertising slogan "You can pay me now, or pay me later" was made ubiquitous by the FRAM aftermarket auto-parts business. The message was that customers had a choice between paying small amounts in the present for replacement of oil and filters or large amounts in the future for major engine repairs. Whatever the merits of FRAM's particular case, the larger point is widely understood and accepted.

Consider a few examples. It is cheaper to maintain and, when necessary, replace one's roof than to let it deteriorate until major damage is done to one's home. It is cheaper to pay one's credit card bill in full every month than to borrow from credit card companies. It is cheaper to take preventive measures to avoid heart attacks than to incur them. Hundreds of examples can be readily offered, and no one would deny the economic truth of such propositions. READ MORE

Getting More Value Out of the Government HR Department

In recent years the human-resources function in both business and government has been under intense scrutiny. You've probably seen articles with titles like "Why We Love to Hate HR." As the pace and sweep of change intensify, personnel-administration professionals are coming under unprecedented pressure to be innovative, to be strategic and to implement their programs and initiatives more efficiently.

Besides being a former city manager, I'm also a former government HR director, and believe that many of HR's problems are self-inflicted. But that's no reason to simply discard it as if it were a disposable organizational function. READ MORE

When the Heroes Are Also the Victims

Emergency-services professionals know that one of their key tasks is to take care of the people who deal firsthand with crises and trauma: firefighters who run into burning buildings, first responders at the scene of a mass murder, personnel who try to rescue people from floods and tornadoes. These brave people do truly heroic work under the most trying conditions. Sadly, they often suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Consider:

• On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. It was the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in our country's history. Police got inside the classroom building in eight minutes and found the shooter dead. But the suffering had only just begun. As medical personnel carried the dead students out of the building, cellphones on the students' bodies began to ring. Horrified parents were calling to see if their children were safe. Some of the first responders had great difficulty getting over the scene. At least one of them retired early from a career he loved. READ MORE

A Real Opportunity for Cross-Boundary Digital Government

What we've called "cross-boundary digital government" for the last decade or so has focused on standardization for shared technology services among programs within state-, local- or federal-government enterprises. After all, we don't want 50 email systems or data centers or networks within a single jurisdiction or agency. We want the efficiency and effectiveness of just a few.

But a focus on technology within jurisdictions or enterprises stops short of the larger and truly government-wide opportunities. We need to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be available with the changes in administration that will follow this year's elections. READ MORE

The Complex Challenges of Measuring the Impact of Social Programs

When is a comparison group not a comparison group? In social-science research, figuring that out may mean the difference between conclusions worth building programs on. A recent economic analysis in the New York Times examining anew a decades-long initiative helping low-income families move from high-poverty areas demonstrates how challenging program-impact evaluations can be. But greater understanding of how to compare may lead to more informed policy.

Dorothy Gatreaux was an African-American mother living in Chicago's highly segregated public housing who successfully sued the Chicago Housing Authority for racial discrimination. The resulting 1976 consent decree created a voucher program that gave 7,500 low-income families the opportunity to move to less racially segregated, more affluent neighborhoods in the city and its suburbs. (I worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's headquarters and provided program support in the settlement negotiations.) READ MORE