CitiStat system put on display

O'Malley showcases approach to boost government efficiency

October 15, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Maps covered with little red dots flew up on screens as a horseshoe of well-dressed men and women stroked their chins and fired questions, making a downtown hotel conference room feel like a national security briefing area.

But the dots didn't represent terrorist camps or military buildings. They marked complaints about trash in Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley put on display his high-tech accountability system for running government - called CitiStat - for more than 100 city, state and county officials in a packed hall at the annual conference of Governing Magazine on Thursday.

CitiStat, which was put into place in the summer last year, fits squarely with a national trend in which cities apply the rules and expectations of the business world to their governments. But Baltimore is the only city to have such a comprehensive, statistics-driven approach to measuring the quality of municipal services, said Elder Witt, deputy publisher of the Washington, D.C.-based publication.

That might soon change. Several government officials interviewed at the conference said they plan to take the idea - or at least part of it - home with them. Some officials running for office are using this as part of their platforms: Mayoral candidates in New Haven, Conn., Detroit and Houston refer to Baltimore's CitiStat in their campaign literature.

"They're all going to go home and talk about this," said Witt, adding that the program emphasizes accountability, leadership, management and technology. "This just has a lot of appeal."

About 380 people from 40 states attended the conference, at which O'Malley was the keynote speaker.

O'Malley says CitiStat has saved the city $13.2 million - mostly by reducing excessive overtime and unchecked absenteeism - since its inception.

As many as one in seven Department of Public Works employees failed to show up for work on every scheduled day, city officials say. With so many people absent, others had to take over their tasks - which led to high overtime costs.

Now, the number of people on sick leave, disability leave or who are absent is tracked. Department managers know they have to answer for the statistics, so they are tougher on errant employees.

"You can never let up on local government," O'Malley said in his keynote address. "You have to be relentless."

The central tenet of CitiStat is to break down government into numbers and watch for patterns. In one example, city officials discovered that some trash routes took a few hours to finish while others took so long that employees earned overtime. City trash routes were redesigned to distribute work equally and save money.

CitiStat meetings convene every two weeks for each city department. Data from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and from police, fire, public works and recreation and parks departments are analyzed. (Information about the school system soon will be scrutinized, too.) O'Malley, Chief of Staff Michael R. Enright and department heads look over the statistics and call managers in front of them to answer for the numbers. The creation of CitiStat has prompted spin-offs that focus on specific areas, such as monitoring drug treatment centers, lead abatement and juvenile agencies.

O'Malley acknowledged that initially several department managers were defensive or suspicious of the new process. When he questioned one woman in the DPW about why an assigned task had not been done, she bristled, saying she could not do her work because she was busy gathering statistics for the meeting.

CitiStat is based on Compstat, the brainchild of New York's former Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple. The program, which was widely credited with bringing down New York's crime rate, mapped where crimes occurred, helping officials direct resources.

O'Malley traced the genesis of this program to car rides through Baltimore neighborhoods with Maple, whom he had hired to draft Baltimore's crime plan. He said he played "Stump Mr. Maple," a game that challenged him to devise ways to quantify something as intangible as youth services.

"I'd throw him things I didn't think he could measure: Doing a better job getting involved in the lives of young people who are at risk. `It's not a pothole, Jack. It's not trash. It's not crime. You can't track it,'" O'Malley recalled.

And Maple would respond, "`Oh yes you can. Where does juvenile crime occur? What hours does it occur? When do your recreation centers open? Do your juvenile justice people ever talk to your people at education?'" O'Malley said.

Conference attendees said they were impressed. Kerry Willis, manager for contracts and grants for Hillsborough County, Fla., said she liked that the data allows managers to make objective judgments about performance.

Michael B. O' Connor, chief deputy mayor in Indianapolis, said he found some elements "very intriguing," especially the vigorous follow-up component. "If it were up to me, we'd do it," he said.

But, he said, his city's approach would be different. His mayor likes to be very "collegial" in his governing style. "We wouldn't want to start this with `C'mon, you've got to get your head cut off.'"

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