Smart Management

When the Best Intentions Lead to Disaster

As the Department of Veterans Affairs begins the long, difficult and expensive process of addressing the problems that led to its scandal over falsified wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments, government managers who want to keep their own enterprises out of the same kind trouble would do well to look at the elements that brought the VA down.

At the heart of the VA scandal is the falsification of records in the face of a huge surge in veterans needing care and insufficient resources to serve them. One study by federal auditors found that, while official VA reports claimed that some vets waited 24 days for an appointment, the average wait time was actually 115 days. And there is another, equally troubling aspect to the scandal: the harsh reprisals to which VA workers who tried to report wrongdoing were subjected. READ MORE

Why Schools Resist Consolidating

No great surprise here: A recent audit in New Jersey recommended that the state move forward with school district consolidation efforts. While New Jersey has already merged several school districts, it still has some 545 of them, more than many other states, even states with larger populations. What’s more, a remarkable 144 of New Jersey’s districts are made up of only one school.

State Auditor Stephen Eells points out the inefficiency of having one K-6 school handle all the administrative costs of running a school district. According to Eells, if that school were to join with a couple of other K-6s, a K-8 and maybe even a high school, the schools could eliminate duplicative administrative jobs, merge administrative tasks like payroll, and purchase commodities at lower rates thanks to the benefits of buying in bulk. READ MORE

B&G Report: Why Nevada's Tesla Tax Incentive Is So Risky

There's a lot of excitement in Nevada, thanks to the decision by electric automaker Tesla Motors to build a $5 billion factory there instead of four other possible states. Tesla said that it will bring some 6,500 new jobs to the state, a pretty impressive number.

But there's no such thing as a free lunch or, in this case, a free launch. The state is spending an enormous amount on subsidies to help lure Tesla to its borders -- around a half a billion dollars, according to press reports. That's many times bigger than the state's biggest previous deal $89 million for Apple. Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence has shed doubt on the value of these giveaways to draw business. READ MORE

What a Public Employee Really Costs

During my time as Oregon's secretary of state, I came to the conclusion that America's two main political parties were imprecisely named. What we really have is an "anti-government" party and an "anti-anti-government" party. This attitudinal divide is especially evident when it comes to the issue of public-employee compensation.

Those in the anti-government camp like to cite studies such as the one published monthly by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Government Workers Cost More than 45% More than Private Sector Workers," is the headline one commentator recently gave to this study. READ MORE

When a Public Agency Is Badly Broken

A single silver lining in the Department of Veterans Affairs' health-care scandal may be the teaching moment the disclosure of the agency's failures has provided. Thoughtful public managers at all levels of government are pausing to reflect and consider how -- or if -- such a pattern of poor performance, cover-up and mistreatment of whistleblowers could happen in their agencies. My experience suggests that under the wrong conditions, any public agency can slide into habits that treat those it serves with indifference and find ways to falsely claim competence and success.

The appointment of a new veterans' affairs secretary from a corporation with a textbook reputation for inculcating a culture of high performance, competence and customer service is a good first step. Yet Proctor & Gamble's disciplined corporate culture was built over decades and is sustained by selecting, mentoring and promoting leaders at all levels who have internalized that culture. READ MORE