Smart Management

Technology’s Crucial Role in the Fight Against Hunger

National Geographic recently sent three photographers to explore hunger in the United States. It was an effort to give a face to a very troubling statistic: Even today, one-sixth of Americans do not have enough food to eat. Fifty million people in this country are "food insecure" -- having to make daily trade-offs among paying for food, housing or medical care -- and 17 million of them skip at least one meal a day to get by. When choosing what to eat, many of these individuals must make choices between lesser quantities of higher-quality food and larger quantities of less-nutritious processed foods, the consumption of which often leads to expensive health problems down the road.

This is an extremely serious, but not easily visible, social problem. Nor does the challenge it poses become any easier when poorly designed public-assistance programs continue to count the sauce on a pizza as a vegetable. The deficiencies caused by hunger increase the likelihood that a child will drop out of school, lowering her lifetime earning potential. In 2010 alone, food insecurity cost America $167.5 billion, a figure that includes lost economic productivity, avoidable health-care expenses and social-services programs. READ MORE

The Debate We’re Not Having over Fiscal Disparities

It is an article of faith in public finance that the best formula for providing efficient public services is to decentralize to the lowest level of government possible. State and local governments have greater incentives to economize and improve productivity because they are, in effect, in competition with one another for taxpayers and businesses.

While the theory is alluring, competition does not play out on a neutral field. Significant disparities exist in the tax bases and needs across states and localities. A 2007 study by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution using the latest data on comparative fiscal capacities across states and localities showed fiscal capacity varying by nearly 120 percent between Connecticut's state and local governments and those of Mississippi. Typically, jurisdictions with low tax bases also are those with high spending needs, which together add up to a low fiscal-capacity score. READ MORE

B&G Report: Performance Pay Problems, Shark States and Meaningless Goals

It wasn't so many years ago that the idea of a city or state setting up a useful website was considered something of a technological marvel. Now, it's hard to find a government entity of any size without a website.

Still, there are problems with lots of sites, including out-of-date information, confusing navigation tools, undated documents and hard-to-find contact information like email addresses, phone numbers or even street addresses. READ MORE

Government Problems and the Power of Prizes

Philadelphia has long had a crime problem. This year the city of Brotherly Love was ranked the 5th most dangerous big city in the country. Unfortunately, that wasn't an aberration -- Philadelphia has hovered between 4th and 7th most dangerous throughout the last decade.

This year Mayor Michael Nutter decided to try a different approach to cutting crime: launching a competition. The city crafted a $100,000 challenge called FastFWD and invited entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions to crime. "We wanted to open up the solution space," explains Story Bellows, who led the initiative for the city. "We were looking for solutions we didn't expect and didn't even know existed." READ MORE

B&G Report: a Ruling on Retirees, Bad Government Checks and Slow Press Offices

It’s difficult for governments to estimate many costs that will take place in the future. In fact, we’ve gotten kind of tired of coming up with more clever metaphors about inadequate crystal balls, tepid tea leaves, ineffective tarot cards and so on. But here’s one case that reaches the range of the unfathomable. According to an Associated Press article, back in May there was a fire in a government office near the capitol building in Madison, Wis. Madison Fire Department investigators reported about $350,000 in damage -- a hefty amount but not devastating. More recently, the Department of Administration issued a news release indicating that the damage is closer to $15 million.

Maybe the Fire Department and Department of Administration were using different definitions, but this kind of publicized difference in estimates would be like telling folks the cost to refill a tank of gas that was going to be $30 dollars and having it turn out to be over $1,200.  READ MORE