Reasons for Leaving

Plus: A great tool for performance reporting, our Journalist of the Month Award, and more
August 1, 2007 AT 3:00 AM
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is

Why do people leave government work? You tell us. We've been reading a lot these days about the idea that young people head for the door because they want more variety and a better chance at speedy promotions. But while the biggest turnover rates in most states and localities seem to come from the most youthful troops, we're curious to hear from the readers of the B&G Report about government employees of all ages. Specifically, we're interested in hearing answers to this question: "What's the number-one thing you think contributes to high turnover rates among state and local government employees?"

E-mail us with your thoughts.

If you're even a little interested in performance measures generally, we strongly recommend that you sign up for the Public Performance Measurement Reporting Network. It's a Web site that features lots of resources about this discipline including case studies, best practices and publications. Of more interest to us are lively and engaging interactions among people who know a lot about performance measurement. "We're trying to create a place where citizens, public managers and elected officials can access the same resources and start a dialogue on performance measurement and reporting," says Dan Bromberg, network project manager. Check it out here.

Our journalist of the month award goes to Julia Ferrante of the Tampa Tribune. On August 2nd she wrote about the best example of the "penny wise/pound foolish" school of budgeting we've ever seen. According to her piece, commissioners in Florida's Pasco County decided that the $6,598 the county spent to belong to the National Association of Counties was "a luxury," in a time when cutbacks are the word of the day (thanks to statewide property-tax changes). Turns out that NACo had offered membership in a prescription drug benefit program that saved the county $1.37 million last year. As of this writing, commissioners were reconsidering their membership.

Police departments are having an increasingly tough time recruiting young people these days thanks to competition from some predictable places -- and one slightly bizarre one. Among the predictable competitors for top-notch police talent are the U.S. Army (which, by the way, asks young people to "take advantage of these limited-time offers" on its Web site, including the chance to win an iPod, by simply registering with their local recruiters). The burgeoning private-security business also draws from the recruitment pool.

But who would have thought a fictional television show would be a thorn in police recruiters' sides? Turns out that CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the number one scripted series in the Neilsen ratings for four years now, is persuading young people that using cutting-edge forensic tools to examine evidence is a whole lot more fun than walking around with a gun. As Craig Fraser, director of management services at the Police Executive Research Forum, told us the other day, "These forensics programs are very popular, so there's now a big pool of crime-scene technicians to draw upon. That means there are fewer people available for police work."

And by the way, the Web site for Fraser's organization is terrific if you're interested in more information about police management. One recent posting is a report that takes the work of Jim "Good to Great" Collins and applies it to law enforcement.

Congratluations to Oregon lawmakers for buying into a bunch of laudable recommendations to improve the efficiency of the legislature. They came from a November 2006 report titled A Blueprint for a 21st Century Legislature. The beleaguered Oregon legislature has been a highly partisan 90-member body squeezed on one side by a strong executive branch and on the other by an active citizen's initiative process.

The adopted measures provide for an independent source of money for the state's government-ethics oversight agency; the continuation of an independent commission to look at pay levels of legislators (and other elected officials) in other states; and an experiment in so-called "supplemental sessions," which could lead the legislature to meet every year instead of every other year. Frankly, we've never understood how states like Oregon and Texas can possibly do their jobs well with legislatures that are out of session every other year.

Performance auditors spend a lot of time measuring the successes and failures of other public-sector employees. But how do you measure the successes and failures of the auditors? Ross Tate, auditor of Maricopa County, has been wrestling with just that problem.

Many audit shops measure the economic impact of their work -- the amounts saved by uncovering wrongdoing. But that doesn't provide the full picture when an audit shop has been successful in preventing problems before they occur. It's nearly impossible to measure what's not happening (how many of you are not reading this item?). What's more, success at prevention means the economic impact of future audits will likely go down. We wonder whether anyone has some good advice for Tate on how an audit shop can really get at an honest appraisal of the results of its work.

If you do have words of wisdom for folks like Tate, e-mail us and let us know.

A few months ago, our column in Governing explored issues concerning citizen surveys. One thing we neglected to mention was the rather simple notion that such indicators of public satisfaction need to be done with a reasonable amount of rigor -- or risk misinforming policy-makers. We're thinking of this right now, having just come across an article by Jodi Rogstad in Cheyenne's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. According to a citizen survey taken in that city, the number of residents who thought Cheyenne provided good opportunities to attend cultural activities dropped somewhat, with the majority now saying they were fair or poor. In past years, respondents reported that they believed they had good opportunities to attend cultural activities.

Why the change? This year, the pollsters sent a lot more surveys to apartment buildings, which meant that nearly one-third of respondents were 34 years old or younger, compared to 14 percent a year ago. We're not so much concerned about Cheyenne. Quotes in the Tribune-Eagle piece from civic leaders indicated that they understood what was going on in the results, and were happy to have a better understanding of young people. We're more worried about surveys in which changes in the population surveyed aren't widely understood.

We've never liked being paid by the hour. We work kind of speedily and think we should be the ones rewarded for that -- not our employers. With that in mind, we were drawn to a study by a Harvard economist that looks at the difference between paying indigent defense lawyers by the hour or giving them salaries and employing them full-time. Turns out that the staff option -- full-time public defenders -- worked better on just about every count. The hourly workers were less qualified, took longer to resolve cases, achieved worse results for their clients, and "cost taxpayers $61 million a year more than salaried public defenders would have cost," according to the New York Times.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been falling off the Medicaid rolls in a number of states. Good news? Not really. According to an excellent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, these are mostly people who haven't complied with a new federal requirement that applicants for Medicaid coverage present proof of their citizenship and identity when they apply for or renew their Medicaid coverage.

This new law serves to turn around efforts on the part of many states to use a mail-in application process, which provides greater access and requires less administrative effort.

First of all, it's not so easy for a lot of people to find -- or replace -- their birth certificates. And even when they do, they may be required to actually go to a Medicaid office. As the report states, many of the people affected are "working poor families that cannot afford to take time off from work to visit the Medicaid office and for low-income families residing in rural areas."

State officials quoted in the report aren't happy. "The largest adverse effect of this policy has been on people who are American citizens," said Kevin W. Concannon, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. "We have not turned up many undocumented immigrants receiving Medicaid in Waterloo, Dubuque or anywhere else in Iowa."

You might think that state officials would be perfectly pleased with any barrier -- however artificial -- to Medicaid enrollment. But the state perspective on this issue is likely somewhat different from the feds'. First of all, it has a hefty administrative cost for them. Illinois projected $16 million to $19 million in increased staffing for the first year this requirement is implemented, and Arizona allocated some $10 million. What's more, assuming the CBPP is right (and we'll bet it is), this will just add to the host of problems states have with dealing with their uninsured citizens. Wasn't that something the federal government wanted to help fix?

Interested in street repairs? Grant oversight? Procurement cards? Facility management? Pension investments? Then you should visit this Web page at the Association of Local Government Auditors, which shows award-winning audit reports on these topics and more. Don't misunderstand: These aren't examples of proven practices; they're particularly good audits that show how well -- or badly -- various efforts in these fields, and others, are working.

How to attract businesses to states and cities? One of the best ways is to reduce the paperwork required -- particularly when it's kind of silly to begin with. New York City took a step in that direction a month or so ago when it passed legislation eliminating a requirement for businesses with one or two pool tables to get licensed as a billiard room.

As Mark Wellborn reported in the New York Observer, "The old law defines a pool hall as any room in which billiards is any establishment, from a hole-in-the-wall bar with one table to a full-fledged billiards hall with 30 tables, has to apply for a license."

Not only will this save time and money for the hole-in-the-wall entrepreneurs, it'll also save money spent for city inspectors who are assigned to ferreting out non-compliant operations. What'll be lost? Nothing. It's our guess that many cities currently carry similarly unproductive licensing requirements on their books.

We're really confused when states, cities and counties take steps that seem as wholesome and defensible as Mom and her apple pie -- but may not really be the greatest management tools. Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina recently signed into law a measure that ensures that veterans who served during a "period of war" will get preference for state jobs, promotions, reassignments or horizontal transfers over others.

We are in awe of men and women who bravely volunteer to serve in the United States military. And we think that they deserve a whole battalion of benefits when they come home to outstretched American arms. But over the years, we've heard countless complaints from personnel officers about problems they encounter in hiring effectively because of veteran's preference. We wonder whether there's a way to give veterans the tools to succeed over others through free pre-hiring training or enhanced on-the-job training, for example, rather than the automatic ability to leapfrog over others.

Here's something to watch: The city of Port St. Lucie, Florida, has decided it can save about $1.2 million a year on city employee health care by opening its own walk-in clinic just for its employees. The new clinic will cost about $350,000 annually. The idea, according to the Port St. Lucie News, is that the cash will be saved by "diverting patients from medical specialists, reducing workers' compensation costs and keeping employees healthier through wellness programs."

Will it work? "This is an experiment," city manager Don Cooper told the News. "We do not know that it will be successful." Not only do we think this is an exciting experiment, we're impressed by the tone of Cooper's response. A city manager willing to try something new and helpful -- without making a bunch of unsupportable promises about its potential -- is our kind of guy.

We've talked to a bunch of government managers about e-mail, and while virtually all of them think it's a good thing, most are also appalled at its misuse. Top on their list seems to be the seemingly inexorable urge many feel to copy everybody in the office on every e-mail. Decision-makers who can't decide who should read a memo are stealing untold hours from the organization. (On a personal note, we find it unfathomable how many people don't comprehend the proper use of the Reply to All button.)

Not that this is directly related to state or local government management, but we thought it was riveting, and we suspect that many of you will agree. It's a world clock that shows (for the last year, month and day) the estimated number of deaths from malaria, fires and drowning; computers produced; extinct species; divorces in the U.S.; and loads more. Check it out here.

Not so many years ago, we used this line when talking about the need for better infrastructure management: "The difference between deferring maintenance on infrastructure and putting off investments in new programs is that when you don't keep up your roads and bridges, people die." We knew this was true, but discovered that audiences didn't react well to the comment. The people with rolling eyes outnumbered those with nodding heads.

After the news in Minnesota, we're reinserting the line in our speeches. And we'll bet we get more nodding heads.

Research Assistant: Heather Kleba