Better Government

People Who Prove Broken Government Can Work

“Nothing today is politically feasible. Nothing,” writes Philip K. Howard in The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government. While his book veers into occasional hyperbole, its overall premise is sound: The proliferation of laws and regulations that attempt to spell out precisely what public officials must do in every conceivable situation makes it increasingly difficult for them to get anything done and coincidentally weakens their moral authority.

The book includes lots of stories like this one: During a storm in February 2011, a tree fell into a creek in Franklin Township, N.J., and caused flooding. The town was about to send a tractor to pull the tree out of the water when it learned this was a “class C-1 creek” and that formal approvals were required before any natural condition could be altered. The town had to spend 12 days and $12,000 to get a permit to remove the tree. READ MORE

The Impact That Government Auditing Could Have (and Doesn't)

Performance auditing can be a powerful contributor to effective and accountable government. There is, however, a gap between the positive impact it could have and that which it is actually having.

In many jurisdictions, the work of the government audit office is largely irrelevant, having little or no influence on the decisions made by the government or the outcomes of those decisions. But two changes to the standards that govern the profession could make performance auditing more relevant. READ MORE

Problems Only Government Can Solve

“For almost forty years our economy has bred stagnant wages, long-term unemployment, huge disparities of wealth, and fewer escalators of social mobility.”

These are the opening words of social scientist Daniel Yankelovich’s book Wicked Problems, Workable Solutions: Lessons from a Public Life. They describe a set of facts that, in ways often unrecognized or unacknowledged, dominates almost every issue. READ MORE

Why the Fiscal Issue That Matters Most Isn't Pensions

At Governing’s Summit on the Cost of Government last September, I asked a group of city, county and state chief financial officers what they saw as the biggest challenge facing their governments. Every member of the group said it was public pensions. I have a great deal of respect for these individuals. They are dedicated public servants, and many of them are far more knowledgeable about state and local government finance than I am. But I think they’re wrong. I think the No. 1 challenge facing state and local governments is infrastructure, not pensions.

First, the dollar estimates for the infrastructure deficit are simply larger than those for pensions. Don Boyd and Peter Kiernan, in a January 2014 paper, pegged the underfunding of state and local government defined-benefit pension systems at $2 trillion to $3 trillion. That’s a lot of money for sure, but the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the country’s infrastructure deficit at $3.6 trillion, and that was back in 2013. READ MORE

A Mayor's Advice for Avoiding Another Baltimore

Nearly every city in the country is vulnerable to the kind of unrest that Baltimore has experienced this week. The underlying forces that led to that city's riot are national in scope, and ours is a nation born in rebellion with a long history of violent civil disturbances.

Riots in America are not rare. From the New York City draft riots during the Civil War to those in cities across the country after Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination to the 1992 riots in Los Angeles over police brutality, some Americans have responded violently when the injustice they feel appears to have gone too far. READ MORE