Smart Management

What Happens When Privatization Doesn't Work Out

Privatization is one of the hottest topics in state and local government. Google the word and you come up with around 12 million entries. But for all the articles and academic reports on the best approaches to outsourcing government services, there’s also a surprising amount of activity around insourcing. 

These days, roughly the same percentage of services that are newly being contracted out are being brought back into the government fold, according to Mildred Warner, a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. Her examination of data accumulated by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) for the period from 2007 to 2012 showed that new outsourcing accounted for 11.1 percent of all services and new insourcing accounted for 10.4 percent of all services.  READ MORE

The Fantasy of the Quick Fix

Americans are impatient. When we see a problem, we want it fixed yesterday. That helps explain why public leaders are reluctant to tackle the gnarly problems our society faces: It is difficult to show results in time for the next election.

That's why we have such a backlog of critical infrastructure projects, why we struggle to improve police-community relations, and why we put off addressing our public pension and health care challenges. To make significant progress, all of these issues require a sustained effort over many years. READ MORE

How Sugar Beets Symbolize Innovation in Government

Karen Thoreson thinks about innovation and government a lot. As president of the Alliance for Innovation, she's an expert on how municipalities can use fresh ideas to improve services without breaking the budget. 

It’s not a new dilemma for her. She spent three decades of her career in local government -- as Glendale, Ariz.’s economic development director, as the assistant city manager for Tucson, Ariz., and as executive director of the Boulder, Colo., Housing Authority -- before being asked to lead the alliance in 2009. READ MORE

The Best Way to Reform Our Criminal Justice System? Shrink It.

There is widespread agreement that our criminal justice system is in need of reform, if not comprehensive overhaul. But beyond easy generalizations, there are few clear ideas about what should be done.

What is clear is that the most egregious failings of the criminal justice system result from demands that it treat ills it is manifestly incapable of treating. Three of the most salient of these are substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness, but there are many others, including a universe of petty, nonviolent crimes. READ MORE

Are You a Micromanager? Get Over It.

In February 1945, John Gunther sat at Fiorello La Guardia's elbow for eight hours and 20 minutes and watched him work. Gunther was a famous journalist. La Guardia was New York's mayor and was even more famous -- a short, profane whirling dervish of energy and ideas.

La Guardia did not disappoint. As Gunther watched, the mayor made decisions in machine-gun fashion, riffling through letters and reports on his desk, barking at this three secretaries, interrogating subordinates. He even found time to hold a press conference while seated at his desk. READ MORE