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

The Hidden Risks of P3s

State and local governments are eager to find ways to address the infrastructure deficit. While both the Obama administration and the incoming Trump White House have promoted a greater use of public-private partnerships (P3s), government officials are well advised to bring rigorous analysis and staff expertise to the negotiating table to avoid costly mistakes and minimize risks for taxpayers.

Recent news coverage highlights the importance of careful analysis. A recent article in the New York Times reported on a long-term deal that Bayonne, N.J., cut with a private equity firm in 2012 to manage the city's water system. While the city got an immediate infusion of investment in its ailing water system, residents have since seen their bills rise by 28 percent. City officials had expected rates to be frozen for four years after an initial bump. The rate freeze did not occur, in part because residents had conserved more water than expected, which reduced the amount of revenue the private-sector partner had negotiated. 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