Better Government

Will Financial Reporting Finally Make Sense?

Back when I taught a graduate course in public finance, I would ask the budding young government managers on the first night of class why they were there. They would look at me a bit quizzically and tell me they were there because the class was required. Then I would tell them that the reason they were there was because they could not manage any organization, public or private, without understanding its finances. 

But I would also tell them that for a host of reasons—including the lack of a single financial bottom line and government’s (incorrectly) perceived imperviousness to market discipline—public-sector finances are much more difficult to understand, which leads to bad management decisions. Sometimes the people making those decisions simply do not understand their consequences, and sometimes the opaqueness of a jurisdiction’s finances allow those consequences to be deliberately obscured. READ MORE

A Better Way to Link Policy Analysis and Performance Management

Operation Breakthrough, a Kansas City social service agency founded in 1971 by two nuns, sits in one of the poorest parts of the city. It serves about 400 kids every day, 98 percent of whom come from families who live below the poverty line. About a quarter of the kids are homeless and another quarter are living in foster care.

Operation Breakthrough is one of dozens of nonprofits and government agencies trying to improve the lives of children and families in the city’s urban core. It’s clear that some of these agencies are doing vital work well. Yet Sister Berta Sailer says that conditions in the neighborhoods served have steadily worsened over the decades. READ MORE

The People Who Will Give Americans the Government They Want

It's not hard to understand why great majorities of Americans are so down on government. Wages are stagnant. Long-term unemployment is high. Folks living from paycheck to paycheck, as so many are, have a sort of constant low-level anxiety. So it should surprise no one that 63 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, as a recent average of polls found.

Much of the voters' frustration is focused on Washington. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that only 21 percent of voters feel that the federal government has the consent of the governed. And while that is up from an even more dismal number of a few months earlier, things are going the other way for Congress, according to a recent Gallup poll. Not only do only 17 percent of voters think most members of Congress don't deserve re-election, but only 46 percent say their own individual member of Congress should get another term. Both of these numbers are historic lows. READ MORE

Advice for New Mayors: Watch Your Mouth

Nine new big-city mayors took office this month -- full of hope, brimming with confidence and eager to bring change to their cities. A recent post noted "a strong progressive streak" in the inaugural speeches of the mayors of Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Seattle, and the video clips of the speeches left me rooting for these mayors.

But the speeches also left me with something else. I wanted to urge these new mayors to ease up, go slow and get the feel of things before trying to do too much too soon. I should know why this is good advice: During my time as mayor of Kansas City, nearly every stupid statement that I later came to regret was uttered in my first couple of months on the job. READ MORE

Why Governments Need to Treat Labor Unions with Respect

If there can be such a thing as a successful municipal bankruptcy, then the one that Central Falls, R.I., has gone through probably would qualify. The city filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 1, 2011. The bankruptcy ended a little over a year later, and this past April the city came out of receivership. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey called the Central Falls process an example for the nation. And there are indeed lessons for public officials everywhere in the story of how three individuals designed and executed Central Falls’ debt adjustment plan. 

Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff for the city’s receiver, Judge Robert Flanders, is a CPA with an MBA in accounting. Turnarounds are what Corrigan does, and she says she’d seen nothing as bad as Central Falls. No one knew how much money the city had or how much it owed. There were 54 different accounts, some of which had been forgotten. When Flanders sent her to ask the state for $2.6 million to pay immediate bills, a sweep of all the accounts revealed that the city actually had $3 million it had been unaware of. READ MORE