It’s become a new tradition for us -- to reflect on the important topics of the past year and then to look ahead to the future. What follow are our predictions for what will be the most pressing management issues in 2016. These items could be addressed through management changes in addition to potential legislative maneuvers. A couple of the issues -- cybersecurity and deferred maintenance -- appeared on last year’s list as well. But we’re confident that they’re more important than ever.
Sharing data vs. data privacy. Last year, we delved into the significance -- and the potential for improved efficiencies -- of having accurate, timely and useful data in cities and states. The more we looked into the issue, the more convinced we became that one of the biggest obstacles to the use of data as an effective management tool is the lack of sharing among agencies. There is general agreement that it would be a good thing if various agencies, such as departments of mental health, education and corrections, were able to access the data gathered about all of their clients.
This goal is often stymied by concerns over privacy. Many agencies claim they can’t share their data with other agencies due to legal restrictions. Yet when those agencies go to their state attorneys general to check on legalities, they’re often told that the laws that seem to proscribe sharing on the basis of privacy don’t necessarily do that. Many state AGs suggest that application of those laws to data sharing is based on hand-me-down theories that have no legal standing to back them up. What’s more, technological advances in so-called “de-identifying” data makes it easier to share the gross numbers without putting an individual’s history on wider display.
The public’s faith and trust in police departments. We discovered in 2015 that one of the underlying causes for this potentially serious problem is that, in many police departments, success is measured by the number of arrests its officers made. When the goal is to arrest more people, fewer resources are going to go toward cementing good relationships between the police and the public, which can lead to improvements in crime prevention. On the face of it, the prevention of crime would seem to be a better goal than catching the person who committed it after the fact. We’re hopeful that police departments will, out of necessity, rethink their measurement systems to focus more on the relationships they have with the community.
Deferred maintenance. There’s nothing particularly new about the need for states, counties and cities to pay more attention to the maintenance of roads, bridges and buildings -- and the way they measure the amount of money they should be spending today on maintenance they put off yesterday. Based on conversations with many academics and budget directors, we believe the talk about this topic is reaching an all-time peak. One reason for this is that a huge amount of necessary maintenance was deferred during the recession. The impact of that is becoming increasingly obvious now. Even leaders and the public in states that weathered the recession better than others are concerned.
Consider Texas. A telling article in The Texas Tribune referred to “walls patched with toilet paper. Rodent urine leaking into the ceiling at a state school for deaf and disabled kids … a backlog of pipeline safety inspections.” There was more, until the article concluded with this: “The signs of wear and tear in state government seem to be cropping up everywhere.”
Cybersecurity. There couldn’t be a complete list of hot management issues without mention of the security of our online systems. So far, the nation’s states and localities have been pretty lucky in that most of the problems on this front have involved only the threat of identity theft. But it’s inevitable that a malevolent organization will intrude into state or city computer systems in a far more dangerous way. You can hold us accountable on this one, but we’d be willing to bet a $100 donation to a worthy charity that before Jan. 1 of next year, a breach in a state or city computer system will lead directly to loss of life. We don’t make this forecast happily, but when and if it comes to pass, the already strong focus on cybersecurity in the states will multiply tenfold.
State procurement processes. As part of a project under the auspices of the Governing Institute, we’ve been examining reforms by state procurement departments. To keep our comments here short and sweet, states are increasingly aware of the savings to be had with modernized procurement systems, including the way those systems are managed and by whom. Based on the number of states that told the institute that they were planning new procurement reforms in the coming months, we’re pretty sure that this is going to be a hot, if often ignored, management topic from coast to coast.
Obviously, these aren’t the only significant management issues with which states and localities will be trying to deal in the next year. A handful that came close to being included here are mental health waiting lists, understaffed jails, electronic health records and budget reforms. Of course, there will be new issues popping up all the time. That’s good for us -- otherwise, what would we write about?