Governing by the Numbers: The Promise of Data-Driven Policymaking in the Information Age
Thank you, John. Thank you very, very much and thank you all for giving me the opportunity to be with you today. John, thanks for your kind words and that kind introduction. And thank you for highlighting CitiStat and the importance of using data to build a performance-based government.
Thank you most of all, though, for your leadership in the realm of ideas. In just a few years’ time, the Center for American Progress has emerged as the sort of “go-to” – I don’t want to use the word think tank, but in a sense it is a think tank — but it has become the “go-to” place for people that are looking for progressive ideas, progressive policy and just as important as policy, progressive administration. Doing the things that work to actualize policies that make sense, but need to be implemented in ways that are effective and performance-measured.
And as you well know, we are a few decades behind the extreme right and neoconservatives when it comes to this sort of institution-building. Even though I’d submit to you that we are way ahead of them in terms of making government work.
In the course of a campaign, during the stump speech…you know, you have to have a ten-point plan when you campaign…so we would launch into the ten-point plan. I’ll spare you points 4 through 10. But point number one was: an O’Malley-Brown administration is committed to making your government work again. Point number two: we’re going to make your government work again. And point number three – sing it with me people – we’re going to make our government work again.
Making our government work is what I find exciting about public service. And I think everyone who calls themselves a progressive should be pleased and grateful for the very important work that goes on here. Amid all of the cynicism – you know, we see a lot of contempt about government on the American right: their desire to make it so small that they could drown it in the bathtub – it’s problematic at any level of government because I think at its core it represents the belief that government can’t work, that government is not a tool to advance the common good. And their solution is then to indiscriminately start lopping off organs of government, instead of trying to lift the hood and fix the problem.
Schools underperforming: it must be government’s fault. Get rid of the Department of Education, privatize schools. But then what happens when they’re confronted with an ambitious task that only government can respond to, as we saw with Katrina? What happens when we’re trying to capture the leader of the global jihadist movement who’s responsible for the deaths of Americans? What happens when we’re trying to nation- build in a country that has a history of skepticism towards Western values? When facing these huge governmental challenges, they fail. They fail tragically and spectacularly, with grave consequences for people and the whole world.
I’m pleased to be here in the company of some great panelists who are going to be following me: Sally Katzen, who deserves a lot of credit for the sound fiscal stewardship of the Clinton Administration. Reece Rushing and Dan Esty did an excellent job capturing the essence of CitiStat. And Nell Williams, who will tell us how it’s done in the private sector and where they figured out these secrets long before the radical notion of measuring outputs ever came to government.
And Larisa Benson with Governor Christine Gregoire’s office, who can talk about how they’ve applied these principles in the state. And I really hope you’re way ahead of where we were on CitiStat because in the O’Malley-Brown administration, we are card-carrying kleptocrats: when we see good ideas in governing that work in other places, we steal them and we apply them to our own problems.
Not unlike, really, how CitiStat came into being. We did not invent it. We borrowed it. We expropriated it from the New York City Police Department which used a ComStat system to revolutionize crime fighting…using the simple technology of computer pinmapping, putting the crimes on the map, deploying the cops to the dots, relentless follow-up to drive crime down. And we figured that if you could use data collection and mapping technology to improve law enforcement, there’s no reason why you could not use it to improve the other things that government does — whether it’s garbage collection, or housing inspections, or removal of dead trees, or repairing traffic lights or streetlights.
The late Jack Maple was the brains behind ComStat, and he became our guru in Baltimore. I learned so much from Jack, and I only with that he could be here to share some of this in his own unique and colorful way, to which I cannot hold a candle, but I’ll do my very best.
Nell Williams will correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m willing to bet that the Marriott Corporation has at its disposal information about the company that is shared not only on the front lines, but all the way up the management chain. The company could tell you how many hotels Marriott has, what their vacancy rate is, their room rates, how many vehicles they own. I’ll bet they have precise measures on how productive their workforce is – who shows up, who doesn’t show up. I bet you have consequences that you enforce as well. And I’ll bet that they strictly enforce company policies.
When I became mayor of Baltimore City in 1999, a 16,000-person corporation with a $2-billion annual budget, we had none of that information available to managers and leaders.
There was no one who could tell me how many sanitation trucks the city owned or really how big our fleet was. I remember asking our outgoing Director of Public Works – I said I’d always heard that the fleet was a big cost. How many vehicles do we have? And they responded 5,500.
I said: “5,500?”
He said: “6,000?”
You get the point.
I’d ask these questions: how quickly our emergency services are responding to 911 calls and things of that nature, and city managers would look back to me as if I’d asked them to explain the laws of quantum physics or something.
They were managing by feel, not by fact. They were laboring under those old mantras: well, this is the way we’ve always done that; we tried that here and it didn’t work; and all of those sorts of things. And perhaps, maybe they stopped collecting information because it was all pretty depressing.
You see, by the late 90s, amid the national economic good times in one of the more prosperous states in the nation, Baltimore was reaching what in retrospect we see was the nadir of a decades-long decline. We had become a poster child for urban blight. We were one of the most violent cities in America. All sorts of problems: a school system that was underperforming by any measure and also our bureaucracy was trapped in a culture of failure. We had thrown up our collective hands. There was nothing we could about this. And that’s where CitiStat stepped in.
In essence, CitiStat – this performance measurement – can really be summed up in one phrase: CitiStat is really about the rational application of human effort to the solving of human problems, and that’s it. And that’s what we do.
And because we actually believe that government can work and that people are smart, we believe that with openness and transparency and performance measurement we can figure out the things that are working well, the things that are not working well. And as rational human beings we can adjust our tactics and strategies and come up with better ways to deliver the sort of government that the people of our city deserve.
So we began to put the four principles of ComStat in place. First one was timely, accurate information shared by all. Do you mean it’s shared by managers? No, I mean it’s shared by all. Do you mean it’s shared by managers, but not given to the secretaries? No, I mean it’s shared by all. Do you mean it’s shared by everybody but the workers? No, I mean it’s shared by all. You mean it’s shared by people within government, but not outside the government? No, it’s shared by all. Timely, accurate information shared by all.
And we’re big fans of the unity of purpose that geography brings to this, which is why we would map everything. Because the map doesn’t know if a neighborhood is black or white, or rich or poor, or Democrat or Republican. We actually have other maps that would tell us whether they’re Democrat or Republican.
The first one was timely, accurate information shared by all. The second is rapid deployment of resources, so that we can respond in real time. The third is effective tactics and strategies. We were able to do things like redraw trash collection borders that even though our population in Baltimore had greatly changed since 1962, the borders had not changed, so we were able to distribute the workload. The third was effective tactics and strategies, as I mentioned. We did a number of other things as well.
We had – this is a true story – we developed a cash prize for those folks that are responsible for collecting the garbage. And there are some 14 different crews. And we found after a 60-day period of measuring the primary colors of tonnage, citizen complaints, and absenteeism that the crew that was in second-to-last place moved from 13th to number one. Immediately wanting to claim the cash prize for not only the number one finish, but most improved. The person running that crew now works in our finance department. No, I’m kidding.
And the person that was in last place stayed in last place, and when we crunched the numbers realized that they made a lot more money continuing with the culture of unexcused absences and inflating their overtime than they would have made chasing after the cash bonus.
The fourth element of this is a relentless follow-up that allows managers and the top of your city government to come together in a problem-solving dialogue every two weeks that’s informed by what’s happened in the last two weeks. Seems like a simple thing, but you know what? Most governments don’t do that. Most governments manage by crisis. Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans, once said to me: kid, if you ever want to hide something, make sure you put it in a city budget or a city charter because nobody ever reads either one.
We manage by crisis. We managed by inputs. Rarely do we get to the point that business always does — of managing with regard to outputs, of bringing people together with that will of inevitability that says the mayor and his command staff aren’t going to forget about this because there’s a stenographer behind me…that we took down who was going to be responsible for solving that aspect of this problem. And guess what? We’re back here in two weeks. Can we come back in a couple of months? No, we’re back here in two weeks. And that’s how we drove progress.
So that in a nutshell is CitiStat. It remains in place today in the city of Baltimore. It’s been fully institutionalized, at first because of the executive commitment, but really over the long term it became institutionalized because we were successful. Because we were successful, and success breeds success. We began to change an entire culture and to, most importantly, redefine what’s possible. I learned at Gonzaga that the Jesuits had a saying that expectations become behavior. This is a method for having high expectations, of redefining what’s possible.
We turned a city where many of neighborhoods were considered ungovernable, and we made her function again. We still have a long way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction. In just a short time, we’ve sparked to sea change in the way city government did its important business. Less than a year after the implementation of CitiStat, Governing magazine said we’re tracking performance on a scale never seen in local government. We didn’t do this to win awards, though we like them. We did it to survive. We did it because our back was up against the wall. There was no money, so we had to think differently and we had to apply our energies to the problems we faced.
Yet programs like CitiStat, I believe, really help us progressives break out of a troublesome habit. And that is giving greater weight to inputs that we do to outputs; putting greater energy into policy than we do into the administration of policy. Everyone always wants to know: how much did we put into early childhood education? What’s the funding level for environmental protection? Less often do we ask how many more children are in pre-K programs today than were in pre-K programs last year? Less often do we ask how much nitrogen did we really take out of the water stream this year compared to how much we took out last year?
Resources spent are not necessarily resources put to their most effective use. And the data – the evidence in the performance measurement — liberates you to be able to ask those questions. Good intentions aren’t enough. Generosity with the pubic coffers isn’t enough. Compassion without competence is pretty useless, and it’s really the results – tangible, quantifiable results – that matter.
We are now following Washington State’s lead trying to move CitiStat into StateStat. And we found that our state government, not unlike the city government that we took over the reins of, was also not very geared to performance-measurement and service-delivery. So we are bringing these remedies to state government.
It’s definitely a work in progress. Just before the end of the legislative session earlier in this month, the House and the Senate passed a bill which was signed into law creating StateStat. There will be many offshoots to it. And as in Baltimore, state agencies will be expected to produce comprehensive data. We’re all going to start sharing information on one common gauge of railroad track, so regardless of how much one department might be in love with their super-secret software that their brother-in-law created, we are all going to share information on a common gauge of track.
We’re implementing BayStat, so that we can look across the board at all the various programs and efforts we have to revive the health of the Chesapeake Bay, see which ones work, see which ones don’t, and invest our dollars where it can get the greatest results for our citizens and for the Bay.
We’ve had several meetings so far. The very first one actually resulted in the closure of the House of Corrections in Jessup, a horrible place that was built in 1874 that would conjure up nightmare images from a James Cagney movie. We closed it in short order and, lo and behold, doing the right thing can also save you money on overtime, can reduce injuries to your workers, and can be the right business thing to do, in addition to being the right thing morally to do.
State governments, I believe and I hope, will become — instead of resigning themselves to being the pass-through for an ever-declining investment by our federal government and the well-beings of our towns and cities and localities — it’s surely my hope that state governments will become incubators for innovation, that state governments will become as cities have become in the last decade…those places where we revive that important notion that in fact our government can work.
Let me wrap up with just a couple more thoughts with you. We’ve talked a lot about the how-to and sort of technical aspect of things. I’d like to talk and wrap up, if I may, with more of the why-to – you know, why this is important.
There was once a governor in a state, whose staff thought that he had become too removed from the people that he was serving. So they’ve decided to schedule this round of town hall meetings all across the state because they didn’t want people to lose touch with their governor. They wanted to show that their governor was in touch with their concerns. So they set up the town meetings and they had microphones on both sides of the room and a woman waited in line a half-hour to be the first person to ask these questions. And she comes up to the microphone and she growls, “Governor, I have several questions.” He says, “Ma’am, you have to limit them, in deference to your neighbors, to two minutes.” “I’ll get through them in two minutes.” “Madam, go ahead.”
And the woman says, you know, “I’ve been calling about the broken sidewalk in front of my house for three years and nobody’s come to fix it. There’s a dead tree in front of my house on the city part of the sidewalk, and it’s been there for four years. I keep calling, nobody does anything about it. And finally, there’s a playground down at the end of the block — the drug dealers and hoodlums have taken over all through the night so that the kids can’t even play during the day because of all of the beer cans and hypodermic needles. I want to know what you are going to do about it.”
And after listening politely, the governor says, “Madam, I believe your questions are better directed to your mayor.” To which the woman replies, “I figured as much, but I didn’t want to go that high up at first.” I told that story to the National Governors Association meeting and no one laughed.
As much as I love my new job, there is a sense in this job of removal. And I believe deep down that local governance, and in that we’ll put state governance, but local governance is really indispensable to improving the quality of life and making our country a better place for the kids that are going to inherit it. I think most of us who are familiar from our own educations, or from seeing those Norman Rockwell portrayals of FDR’s four fundamental freedoms.
Think about them, if you will, in this way: FDR said 66 years ago that in the future days which we seek to make more secure, we look forward to a world founded on four fundamental freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world. The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want everywhere in the world. And the fourth is freedom from fear everywhere in the world.
Now, compare that if you will to the vision statement, which I think every city at its core – every local government, hopefully every state – holds in common. In Baltimore, our mission statement was this: to improve pubic safety in every neighborhood — freedom from fear; to make our city a better place for children to grow up — freedom from want and fear, maybe even expression in its highest form. And the third part was to make our city a place where jobs and opportunities are expanding for all — again, freedom from want. That revolutionary American world vision, my friends, for our nation, for this world, and for our cities are really – are one. You know, they really are. And God wants every partial victory.
It’s amazing what happens when you start using geo-mapping and performance government to make government work, to reinforce those principles of equal opportunity that makes real the promise of equal responsibility and social justice and progress that I think motivates most people to get into government in the first place.
Technology is value-neutral. Technology is value-neutral and this tight geography of ours really unites all of us. And CitiStat helps us deliver on the aspirations that are shared, I think, by every free citizen. It’s been said that there’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole; that there’s no liberal or conservative approach to removing graffiti; that every child, regardless of their parents’ party affiliation – right? – deserves a healthy start, deserves a decent home, a decent place to play where they don’t have to dodge hypodermic needles or bullets.
And I suppose there are some cynics around who will say, well, so what if you’ve reduced violent crime by 10 percent this year? Why is that a big deal? It’s a big deal if your spouse otherwise would have been a victim of that violent crime. Why is it a big deal that you actually have competent emergency plans and contingencies for evacuation? Well, it’s a big deal if your mother was the one that wasn’t left behind to die in a nursing home when the flood came. Why is it a big deal that you’ve figured out an effective way to transition foster kids out of foster care when they age out and reach 18? It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal, especially if that kid might be the kid that discovers a cure to AIDS.
Progress accomplished by state and local government — progress which increases the quality of life in any neighborhood or any block — is truly omnipartisan. It is omnipartisan in both its subscription and its appeal. And Frank Reid at the Great Bethel AME Church in Baltimore has this saying that develops like a sing-song when he says it from the pulpit in the congregation. He says, “If it’s not about the relationship…” and the congregation shouts back: “It’s not about anything.” It’s all about the relationship –between ourselves and God, ourselves and others, ourselves and the time and place and the space that we share with other people.
Think about it. I have teenaged daughters and I’m sure some of you do as well. Why do they flock to MySpace? It’s not for separation. It’s not for alienation. They flock to MySpace because of the innate human desire to be connected and to be connected to others.
Father David Hollenbach, a theologian at Boston College, wrote that “the biblical understanding of freedom” in Exodus was “not simply freedom from constraint, but freedom for participation in the shared life of people.” Kind of high and lofty thoughts, maybe; but then again, maybe not.
And I leave you with the words of Robert Kennedy, who said that “idealism, high aspiration, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs… There is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities. No separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind, and of rational application of human effort to human problems.
Thanks very much.