Governing RePost: The secret benefits of sharing government services

Each September, Umatilla County, Ore., hosts the Pendleton Round-Up, a massive rodeo that draws 50,000 people, nearly doubling the county’s population. Cowboys and cowgirls from across the country bring their broncos to compete, while guests line up to watch them battle bulls and rope steers, among other things, over the three-day affair.

But bringing so many people together has a downside: Each year, there are always outbreaks of communicable diseases such as rotavirus and influenza. Umatilla County’s public health professionals have the unenviable task of containing these outbreaks. Fortunately, they don’t go it alone.

Does the beneficial sharing of government services lead to cost benefits as well? Justin Marlowe explores that question in this Governing.com article.

Accountability and Media Featured

Insights for auditors

I have been subscribing to a series of newsletters by Harvard professor Bob Behn for many years now. Behn teaches in the Kennedy School of Government. They cover many topics that touch on our audit world: accountability, performance, measures, management. The one-pagers are an interesting quick read on topics about government performance.

Behn has a good eye for the pragmatics that interfere with the best laid plans of policy makers and executives.

His narratives often bring in ideas and experiences we encounter in performance auditing, though he has raised a few questions about the profession. He wrote about one hearing he attended in Olympia in 2008 about a performance audit of the state’s transportation department, produced by contractors Ernst & Young. He learned about specific cost savings identified by the auditors but didn’t get a sense of the agency’s performance, and seemed to have an idea of what was missing:

“For a performance audit, however, what is the equivalent of the financial rules? Who has set what expectations for performance for which the auditors can check”?

It’s clear that Professor Behn comes from a measurement viewpoint, because he seems to want a target or expectation as a basis to gauge performance. The intent of performance auditors is to spot a solution or strategy that improves an organization’s performance, and results. We don’t grade agencies but we show agencies a path to save money, serve more clients, or produce better outcomes. And, as we say, there is always room for improvement…

It would be very difficult for us to produce a reliable grade because the performance of an organization is dependent upon too many variables, external and internal. Economic conditions can affect the costs of goods and services, or the workload in an employment department. Demographic changes, federal rule changes, weather conditions, and even availability of street drugs are just some of the factors that can make government agency outcomes better or worse. These agencies also face internal variables such as turnover in managers or staff, computer system efficacy, agility to change, and sufficiency of resources.

The professor writes about many of these challenges, so perhaps he is taking a second look at his first impressions of performance auditing. Some activities are subject to control, such as financial rules, while others can only be ‘managed’ within circumstances.

Here is a sampling of some of the more recent newsletters, and there are many others worth reading as well.

May 2015: Policy Design & Operational Capacity

November 2014: Avoiding the KPI Quagmire

October 2014: What Performance Mgmt Is and Is Not

August 2014: Designing a Test Worth Teaching To

July 2014: Be Both a Hedgehog and a Fox

June 2014: What Is Really Going On? [ II ]

November 2013: Measurement, Mgmt, & Leadership

October 2103: Punishing the Efficient

Gary Blackmer OAD Director

Gary Blackmer
OAD Director

 

Header Image: @Stephen Orsillo, Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

Accountability and Media Auditors at Work Featured

Eye on the digital future: Coding a Better Government

What is government? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “the group of people who control and make decisions for a country, state, etc,” or “a particular system used for controlling a country, state, etc,” or even “the process or manner of controlling a country, state, etc.”

But more simply than that, according to Tim O’Reilly government is, at it’s core, what we do together that we can’t do alone. The Merriam-Webster definition of government- often considered to be technologically outdated, slow, monolithic and inefficient- is being replaced and rebuilt to reflect the vast social and technological changes that have touched most of our lives. As Jennifer Pahlka explains in the video below, governments (particularly local governments) are becoming more accessible, more open-sourced, and more responsive to their communities through effective use of new technologies.

What do these changes in how governments serve their citizens, and how citizens work with one another, mean as we look to the future?

 

Featured

Trust and Trustworthiness

As auditors, we strive to ensure that government functions fairly, efficiently, and effectively.  Auditing has long been one of the methods used to ensure that government is performing to expectations, and is part of a broader system of accountability that minimizes incidences of corruption and the misuse of public funds.

Despite these measures, it is frequently reported that trust in government has dropped to historic lows. State and local governments have retained higher levels of public trust than the federal government, but they have also seen declines in reported public trust since hitting a peak in 2001.

But is reported public trust a true indicator that something has gone wrong, or right? Is it something that we as auditors need to keep in mind as we go about our work?

In the following video, Onora O’Neill discusses trust, and it’s often ignored cousin, trustworthiness.

Accountability and Media Featured