We Can Make Government Work

Experts join Gov. Martin O’Malley to discuss new report from CAP about how to improve government effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability.

When Martin O’Malley took over as mayor of Baltimore in December 1999, city managers lacked basic information on the performance of their departments. “They were managing by feel, not by fact,” said O’Malley yesterday at an event at the Center for American Progress. As a result, absenteeism spiraled out of control while city programs and services deteriorated.

To combat these problems, O’Malley, who was sworn in as governor of Maryland in January, implemented a data-tracking and management system called CitiStat. The system is the subject of a new report from the Center for American Progress, “The CitiStat Model: How Data-Driven Government Can Increase Efficiency and Effectiveness.” Citistat has saved the city of Baltimore $350 million and dramatically improved government performance.

“CitiStat is really about the rational application of human effort to the solving of human problems,” O’Malley explained at yesterday’s event. Using this approach, O’Malley said, “[We can] make our government work again.” O’Malley is now applying the CitiStat model to the state level, recently signing legislation to implement StateStat, which will track the performance of state agencies.

O’Malley emphasized that better government must mean focusing on real-world outcomes, not just policy design and inputs such as budgetary expenditures. “Resources spent are not necessarily resources put to their most effective use,” he said. “It is really results: tangible, quantifiable results that matter.”

For example, O’Malley used CitiStat to track the time it takes city departments to respond to public complaints. Thanks to this careful monitoring and relentless follow-up by O’Malley and his staff, the city now guarantees that it will repair potholes within 48 hours of notification. “Service like that has got to get your attention,” said John Podesta, president and CEO of CAP, in his introduction of O’Malley.

“CitiStat is truly omnipartisan in both its prescription and its appeal,” O’Malley added. “There is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole.”

Podesta noted that at the federal level “cronyism, increased secrecy, and special-interest influence peddling are all on the rise—frequently producing disastrous real-life consequences for the American people … Governor O’Malley’s innovation provides an excellent model to consider as we move to re-establish competent government that is responsive to the needs of its people.”

Following O’Malley’s remarks, a panel discussed ideas for implementing data-driven government. The panel included Daniel C. Esty and Reece Rushing, authors of CAP’s new report “Governing by the Numbers: The Promise of Data-Driven Policymaking in the Information Age;” Larisa Benson, director of Government Management Accountability and Performance for Washington Governor Christine Gregoire; Nell Williams, vice president of revenue management development and systems strategy for Marriott International; and Sally Katzen, former deputy director for management of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, who moderated the panel.

In 2005, the state of Washington launched a program modeled after CitiStat. “Creating a culture of accountability requires discipline. The follow-up is the key to make this work,” explained Benson. “It takes the right kind of leader to provide the holding environment.”

Collecting timely and accurate information also increases transparency and accountability. “We want the public to have access to this data,” said Rushing. “We have to get better facts and better analysis for decision-making,” Esty added. “[With data], we can spot problems that might not be visible to the naked eye.”

The process does not stop at just looking at raw numbers. “They interpret the data which then becomes knowledge which then becomes strategy,” said Williams. “[It] requires packaging data in a way that’s understandable to decision-makers,” agreed Rushing.

For more information about the event, see:

Watch event video:

For more information on the reports, see:

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.