Smart Management

The Tricky Trend That’s Blurring Budget Transparency

State and local budgets are based on general fund revenues. The cash usually comes from such primary sources as income and sales taxes, and pays for a wide swath of government services. When managers talk about “balancing the budget,” they’re almost always referring to balancing the spending and revenues from this repository. 

Reliance on the general fund as the centerpiece of fiscal management, however, has growing flaws. This is largely because the general fund is diminishing as the main source of money for governments. Data from the National Association of State Budget Officers shows a fairly steady drop in the portion the general fund makes up of the total -- 41 percent in 2014 compared with 52 percent in the early 1990s. In Virginia, the general fund made up 47 percent of the total in 2006 and only 39 percent in 2015. READ MORE

The Difference Between Promising and Governing

Over the last few election cycles, "fact checking" has become ubiquitous. News organizations, advocacy groups and partisans devote significant resources to comparing what is said in election campaigns to what happens after the winners take office. Not surprisingly, the reality of governing doesn't always match the promises that candidates make.

What most of the fact-checking sites and organizations have in common is that they are about correcting the record with respect to things that have already happened. There is another kind of reality check, however, that may be even more important but is much harder to do. That is when a candidate for office promises to do things, if elected, that would not pass any kind of reality check. Unlike untruths that are told about past events, we do not know that these are false, but there should be substantial reasons to very skeptical that these promises can ever come true. READ MORE

Public Employee Surveys: Worthwhile or Worthless?

A truckload of research points to the advantages of having engaged employees, and surveys provide a useful benchmark for measuring it. While such surveys aren’t as common in government as they are in the private sector, they are getting more popular. That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that even when governments do survey employees, they’re often slow to make changes based on the results.  READ MORE

The Political Lure of Spending Less in the Present

The advertising slogan "You can pay me now, or pay me later" was made ubiquitous by the FRAM aftermarket auto-parts business. The message was that customers had a choice between paying small amounts in the present for replacement of oil and filters or large amounts in the future for major engine repairs. Whatever the merits of FRAM's particular case, the larger point is widely understood and accepted.

Consider a few examples. It is cheaper to maintain and, when necessary, replace one's roof than to let it deteriorate until major damage is done to one's home. It is cheaper to pay one's credit card bill in full every month than to borrow from credit card companies. It is cheaper to take preventive measures to avoid heart attacks than to incur them. Hundreds of examples can be readily offered, and no one would deny the economic truth of such propositions. READ MORE

Getting More Value Out of the Government HR Department

In recent years the human-resources function in both business and government has been under intense scrutiny. You've probably seen articles with titles like "Why We Love to Hate HR." As the pace and sweep of change intensify, personnel-administration professionals are coming under unprecedented pressure to be innovative, to be strategic and to implement their programs and initiatives more efficiently.

Besides being a former city manager, I'm also a former government HR director, and believe that many of HR's problems are self-inflicted. But that's no reason to simply discard it as if it were a disposable organizational function. READ MORE