Smart Management

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

How Does a City Lose a Backhoe?

We work out of an office in our New York City apartment. Even though it’s just a two-person operation, we go through a surprising amount of supplies: paper, toner cartridges, file folders and so on. In order to save money and be more efficient, we buy in bulk.

Makes sense, right? The only problem is that we still run out of supplies (leading to sometimes loud conversations about who used the last black ink cartridge and didn’t re-order). Even when we haven’t run out of something, we frequently can’t figure out what file cabinet it’s in. So, we re-order. It’s our theory that if we ever leave this apartment, we’ll uncover four years’ worth of yellow legal pads. READ MORE

Why Blame Is the Death of Reform

If you want to see what can go wrong with government reform, look at this editorial cartoon.

Notice first the cartoonist's point of view: that it is condescending and counterproductive for "drive-by" experts to criticize hard-working government employees (in this case, teachers) for their performance. READ MORE

When Performance Measurement Goes Wrong in Government

Recent revelations that employees at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals falsified performance data on patient-appointment wait times in order to receive larger bonuses have turned the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), once considered at the forefront of federal efforts at performance management, into a national joke. While it is not known how widespread this practice was, it is a reminder that it does not take many bad actors to ruin the reputation of an entire agency.

The VA scandal comes on the heels of a number of high-profile cases of education administrators and teachers cheating (or encouraging cheating) on standardized tests, making it all the more worrying to those of us who advocate reforms centered on performance management. In Atlanta, the school superintendent, as well as 35 teachers and principals, resigned in the wake of a scandal allegedly driven by pressure placed on teachers to falsify test-score results. Educators in cities including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., also have been caught up in cheating allegations involving standardized tests. READ MORE

B&G Report: the Dangers of Comparing Police, Book Recommendations and Unhelpful Media

States, counties and cities are focusing their managerial skills on ways to cut cascading health care costs. That’s fair. And they mostly say that they want to cut the health care costs without diminishing the quality of the care. Again, managers can try to grapple with such a difficult task but there’s a risk that too much attention to saving dollars could diminish the drive to improve health, extend life and extend quality of life. Do you think that’s a possibility? If so, do you see it as a dangerous one? Or are we just worrywarts?

Does the transparency movement feel like a tidal wave to you, flowing over every government entity from coast to coast? If so, you haven’t been paying attention to some 50,000 districts in the United States, many of which provide limited information on their finances to the taxpayers that fund them. READ MORE