Government Accountability, Been There, Done That

If you go to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s website and click on “Reports” and type in the word “outcomes,” you’ll get a free copy of a report entitled “Reframing Responsibility for Wellbeing Outcomes.” The report was written by Con Hogan and Dave Murphy. Hogan lives in Plainfield. Murphy now lives in Washington DC where he consults internationally, helping governments measure the effectiveness of their initiatives designed to enhance society’s wellbeing.

Hogan has done the same, but from his farm in Plainfield, traveling extensively to help foreign states and municipalities implement systems and benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of their social programs. Northern Ireland and cities in Holland, Norway, Scotland, Australia, Chile, and the UK have all, to varying degrees, adopted the work begun here in Vermont under Governors Snelling and Dean.

As then Secretary of Human Services Hogan’s mantra was “if you can’t measure the effects of a social program, you can’t improve it.” Under his leadership, the Agency of Human Services put in place objective measurements in partnership with sixty Vermont community catchment areas to track and measure the effectiveness of their programs. The Annie E. Casey Foundation was so impressed they commissioned the report and published it as a book.

But when the current administration came into power, the accountability program was eliminated, as was the Social Indicator Report designed to make Vermonters and the legislature aware of the effectiveness of their investments in the well being of Vermonters. As Secretary Hogan said back then in a presentation to the VT Business Roundtable at which I was present, “If these indicators get worse, you need to fire me because I am failing.” That’s both transparency and accountability.

This year, the Joint Legislative Accountability Committee authorized the expenditure of $300,000 to hire a consultant from Minneapolis to suggest ways that Vermont Government could “improve efficiency, enhance innovation, measure performance and prioritize initiatives.”

“I’m Sorry, been there, done that,” as the saying goes.  What is it in politics that so effectively obliterates short term memory? Is it the ridiculous two-year leadership term we extend to our elected officials? Is it the idea that any objective measurement of their leadership is a political liability?

Yet again in 2005, a Citizen Commission headed by Mary Powell and David Coates was empanelled to look at practical ways to improve government efficiency, improve process and reduce waste. Their report was filled with practical suggestions for improving government efficiency and accountability.

Hopefully, the new consultant will download the free 138-page “outcomes” report detailing Vermont’s very successful partnership between local communities and the State’s largest agency to measure the success of their program initiatives and to share with Vermonters and politicians the success or failure of their investments. I am sure either Mary Powell or Dave Coates would be happy to provide a free copy of their extensive report as well.

We have all the information we need. We just need to use it.

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