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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nola Stat - reducing waste in the City Budget

From: Brian Denzer
Subject: [NolaStat] How do we live within our means without cutting essential city programs and services?
Date: Oct 27, 2009 10:38 AM

The public was been invited to City Council chambers last night to comment on what the city's budget priorities should be.

From my own analysis of the "Budgeting for Outcomes" process over the last two years, I intend to make the comment that the process of yearly performance reviews as part of an annual budget cycle is insufficient for managing government performance. We certainly will have to balance the budget this year, but severe budget imbalances are predicted for the foreseeable future. We have to ensure that budget adjustments don't adversely impact essential city services, or community priorities.

No family could ever live within a budget or fulfill its goals if it only reviewed its finances and priorities once a year. Government is no different.

How do we live within our means without cutting essential city programs and services?

Achieving annual performance goals while observing fiscal discipline requires regular review as part of a weekly or bi-weekly process. This is the lesson from a dozen other cities that have implemented “stat” processes. It's also essential that the entire community be invited to participate in an inclusive process of setting priorities.

Baltimore's CitiStat process reduced waste by $350 million over seven years. CitiStat didn't just reduce wasteful expenditures. It allowed mayors Martin O'Malley and Sheila Dixon to reinvest resources in improving access to affordable housing, reducing violent crime, moving blighted houses back into commerce, reducing lead poisioning in children with abatement activities, faster street repairs, building modern schools, improving equity in the city's economic progress, greening the city, and increasing drug treatment programs. And in order to keep the public informed of agency performance, all reports compiled for CitiStat meetings are posted on the city's Web site for the public to view.

Washington, D.C.'s CapStat process went even further, posting agency data on the city's Web site. Public access to city data became the basis for Apps for Democracy, allowing the community to tap city data to build new ways to inform themselves about government operations, including an iPhone application that alerts neighborhood residents of all building permit applications to help eliminate surprise land use changes.

I have been conducting policy research over the last several months to advance a NolaStat policy reform for New Orleans. NolaStat is envisioned as a process to manage the performance of city agencies, and to improve public access to city data. It is a policy that is completely consistent with community participation in the budget process, and that fulfills the vision of the Master Plan to improve community input in land use decisions. In short, a NolaStat reform offers New Orleanians the opportunity to create a better and more participatory government. It isn't just about changing the people we elect to office, but instead, it's about changing the operating system of New Orleans.

My hope is that all candidates for municipal office in 2010 will adapt their platforms to include the creation of a NolaStat policy, using the best practices in other cities to model a solution for New Orleans that improves the performance of city agencies, and that improves public access to city information.

Brian Denzer

This is my personal favorite part of Brian's report:
1) Many offices have no measurable outcomes indicated other than a description of what the office does. There were 62 offices in which no outcomes were offered. Instead, a disclaimer was used as a placeholder, “Measures to be developed in 2009.”

He is RIGHT. How can we know what to cut and where in the budget
IF we don't really know what each department does?

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