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Maryland's hunt for waste

February 13, 2007

When Gov. Martin O'Malley announced his first budget, he said he would not rule out tax increases in the future. But first, he said, he would look for waste in government.

Waste in government has always been easier to talk about than to actually locate, but this week the governor deployed a tool that just might unearth some.

The (Baltimore) Sun on Monday reported that O'Malley will come to Annapolis with a new version of CitiStat - described as a statistics-based government management program.

Called StateStat, the new system will cost about $360,000 a year. As described by The Sun's Justin Fenton, the program and its staff gathered a lot of information about the delivery of city services, analyzed it to look for trends and sometimes forced officials to justify their department's performance.

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In just three months of CitiStat use, Baltimore was able to cut overtime at the city's Department of Public Works by 25 percent and unscheduled leave by 33 percent.

But there is some question about how the system will be able to affect conditions in some areas, such as corrections and juvenile service, where it is scheduled to be applied early on.

As the Sun story noted, Citistat was unable to improve Baltimore's murder rate or its chronically troubled schools.

In our view, measuring by statistics will only take Maryland so far. It can probably track which strategies for the rehabilitation of adults and juveniles are more effective, but while a yardstick can measure performance, it might not be enough to inspire it.

For example, correctional officers' complaint about Project RESTART was not that it wouldn't work, but that prison safety was being sacrificed in the process.

O'Malley has to convince all state workers that performance and public service what will lead to promotions and bonuses, as opposed to which member of the General Assembly is their mentor.

StateStat will be judged a success when someone who is well-connected gets bounced when their statistics and performance just don't add up.

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