Better Government

The Most Important Question in Government: Where's the Money?

“Where’s the money?” While that’s the second question in government, it’s also the one that really matters most. The debates that fuel elections and the legislative process are usually about the first question: “What shall we do?” But the answers to that are largely irrelevant if you can’t find the money to pay for what you want to do.

Financial crises are a perennial and perhaps endemic feature of democratic government, in part because so few public officials want to make this connection between money and the policies they advocate. Lois Scott, Chicago’s chief financial officer and the leader of the Municipal CFO Forum, echoes this theme. When a public official says, for example, “I’m for job creation,” Scott wonders, “Who’s opposed to job creation?” Anyone can talk about what government should do. The critical issue is how we will find the money to get these things done. That issue is the central theme of a new memoir by Richard Ravitch, former lieutenant governor of New York and co-chair, with Paul Volcker, of the State READ MORE

States Recognizing the Value of New Americans

In their 2009 book Immigrant, Inc., Richard Herman and Robert Smith include this quote from a 1953 report by the President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalization: “The richest regions are those with the highest proportion of recent immigrants. ... Their industry, their skills and their enterprise were major factors in the economic development that has made these regions prosperous.”

If anything, that proposition is even truer now. The immigration reforms of 1965 significantly increased the possibilities for non-Europeans to enter the United States. The result has been a surge of talented, well educated immigrants from places like China and India. By the 2000 Census, immigrants accounted for nearly half of all of this country’s scientists and engineers with doctoral degrees. READ MORE

The Benefits of a Better Town-and-Gown Relationship

A pervasive trend in city government is the creation of the position of chief innovation officer. The establishment of these offices is a recognition by city leaders that institutionalizing a focus on cultivating new approaches to improving performance will likely produce more and better ones than if it were simply left to chance. Some innovation offices will perform better than others, but I’ll bet that they prove to be more than a fad.

In that vein, perhaps the next cool thing in city halls ought to be the “HERO” -- the higher education relations officer. I got the idea that city governments ought to create a formal position focused on the strategic use of their colleges and universities from David Birdsell, dean of the City University of New York’s Baruch College School of Public Affairs. As Birdsell reminds us, colleges and universities are major assets to any city, bringing in students, purchasing goods and services, sometimes attracting substantial research dollars, and usually contributing substantially to the arts and cultural life. And often they are among the city’s top employers. READ MORE

The 3 Flavors of Corruption

While serving as mayor of Kansas City, I was investigated by several entities, including the Missouri Ethics Commission, for allegedly using city staff and property to campaign for a light rail initiative that was on the ballot. I was eventually exonerated, but only after a great deal of bad press and time spent by my staff and me supplying documents, answering interrogatories and being interviewed by various investigators.

In my previous work as a government auditor, I had frequently dealt with scandal and impropriety, but I had never envisioned myself as the star of the show. This was a new and sobering experience, and I came away from it shocked at my former naïveté. Now, when I see media reports of apparent ethical lapses involving public officials, I tend to group them into three broad categories. READ MORE

Why Loneliness Should Matter to Governments

Humans are pack animals. It’s bred into our genes. As John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick wrote in their 2008 book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, early humans “were more likely to survive when they stuck together” and “evolution reinforced the preference for strong human bonds.”

MORE: Read the rest of the December issue. READ MORE