Smart Management

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

Performance Management in Government: The Old Is New Again

For all of the interest and excitement surrounding current efforts to expand performance management in government, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the concept was born in the past decade or two. Yet today's innovative approaches to finding ways to deliver public services more efficiently -- from proliferating "stat" programs to powerful data-analytics tools -- have their roots in research going back to the early part of the last century.

The early work of ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, in measuring the efficiency of municipal services, for example, was so well received that it served as one of many catalysts to the development of public-sector performance-management approaches. We published the first in a series of 14 articles focused on "economies," or ways to improve performance in a variety of local-government areas, in Public Management magazine back in July 1932. Five years later, graduate student (and eventual Nobel laureate) Herbert A. Simon, along with then-ICMA executive director Clarence Ridley, authored an article titled "Technique of Appraising Standards," the first in a series on management standards in city administration. READ MORE

B&G Report: L.A.'s 300-Year Problem, Problematic Comparisons and Simple Solutions

According to a recent issue of City Journal California, “fixing L.A.’s century-old water pipes, [said the] Department of Water and Power, could take up to 300 years.” That wasn’t a typographical error. In a model of understatement, the senior assistant general manager of the DWP said, “That’s probably longer than we would like it to be.”

The DWP has come under assault in auditors' reports for overspending, overcompensating and underperforming “relative to other utility companies,” reported City Journal. But we don’t want to delve into the obstacles to fixing those pipes or castigate anyone in California for the awful mess its pipes are in. Rather, we’d like to simply offer our opinion that a target date three centuries away represents a timeline that has dubious value. Good luck, California. READ MORE

The VA Isn't the Only Agency Mismanaging Waiting Lists

Government waiting lists made headlines in May when the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) blew the whistle on the agency. Some 1,700 veterans at its Phoenix hospital who believed themselves to be on the medical facility’s waiting lists were not. 

Worse, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently several VA facilities across the country had mucked around with their waiting lists to make it appear that veterans were receiving services in quick and efficient order, which, as we learned, was not remotely true. READ MORE