Wednesday, August 1, 2007

All About Govt Efficiency....but shhh, it's a secret.

The editorial board of the PG writes today, "Stick to it: Ravenstahl and Onorato need to pursue efficiency". It mentions the Advisory Committee to Enhance Efficiency and Effectiveness of City and County Government headed by Univ of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

While we're not sure ourselves whether the Louisville model [see this for a little background] is good for Pittsburgh, both leaders should wait to hear from the Advisory Committee to Enhance Efficiency and Effectiveness of County and City Government, the latest bipartisan group of civic leaders to study the operations. The committee, headed by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, has completed its fact-finding and is ready to start working on recommendations. Five meetings are scheduled between now and the end of October, which means the answers won't be known anytime soon.
While I'm glad to see that civic leaders are engaging local source of academic wealth (since public officials are rarely informed on evidence-based delivery of public services) I am a bit confused of the secrecy surrounding these recommendations. The advisory committee has completed it's report and 5 meetings will be held behind closed doors prior to a mayoral election? The contrary seems more reasonable to me in a democracy; candidates would hold a series of public debates on a non-partisan report produced with academic oversight on recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. We've been hearing about this committee for quite some time and each time I read about it I am confused about the justification for keeping its findings from the public.

Is the assumption that the public is too stupid to understand the findings? Why not institutionalize an advisory committee like this and allow it to release independent reports which the public can access? Stretch this idea--why doesn't a staff person handling administrative tasks (such as editing, printing the printing the report, etc.) for the advisory committee anonymously leak some of its findings to the press.

Political scientists Weir and Skocpol in 1983 wrote (start p. 359):
Our analysis of the responses of Sweden and the United States to the Great Depression emphasizes the political effects of their sharply different state structures rather than primarily focusing on class interests or balances of class power.
They analyzed social policy outputs and argued that because Sweden had university economists as part of formal state structure, that institution had a stronger influence on public policy whereas, in the US, industry had a stronger influence (think Michael Moore's 'Sicko' here and why 40million Americans don't have health insurance).

With Mr. Ravenstahl (and Onorato) kicking it and doing 'official business' on golf courses with interested parties but meeting behind closed doors on what the hell to do about improving govt efficiency, I think they owe the public prompt access to the Advisory Committee's work. They also might want to consider institutionalizing such an Advisory Committee to maintain a consistent source of well-reasoned recommendations for the city and county for administrations to come.


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