CitiStat wins prize honoring innovation

O'Malley to accept award via satellite from Boston

July 28, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's computerized system for tracking municipal efficiency, a management model that has been studied by cities around the country and the world, is being recognized today as a winner of the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award at a presentation in Washington.

CitiStat, a signature program of Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration, was one of five winners that were selected from more than 1,000 applicants.

Linking mapping technology to Baltimore's 311 citizen complaint line, CitiStat allows O'Malley and his top aides to track agency spending, calls for services and the city's response to them.

"What this does is to let him see real-time performance data and to fix things quickly," said Carl Fillichio, vice president of the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonprofit group focused on improving government performance. The council is giving the award, which comes with a $100,000 grant, in conjunction with the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

`One of the best tools'

"It is one of the best tools to hold agencies and agency heads accountable for performance," Fillichio said of CitiStat. "And the fact that citizens in Baltimore can log onto it and be a part of the process is a pretty terrific thing."

The system is not without flaws. In February, The Sun reported that it had tested the system by phoning in 50 problems, 24 of which were fixed within 60 days.

In nearly a third of the cases in which the problem was not fixed, city workers falsely reported that they had done the work, inflating the response rate reported by CitiStat.

In response, the 311 call center started calling back residents to make sure the work is done. O'Malley also suspended three Department of Public Works employees who he said were responsible for "phantom abatements."

"Shining a bright spotlight on a program shows its strengths and also shows its weaknesses," Fillichio said. "The challenge is to replicate the strengths and correct the weaknesses."

This year's other winners are: the National Institutes of Health, for an online system that provides information about clinical trials; the city of Seattle, for creating a method of purifying and transporting storm water runoff that uses plants, trees and soil; the U.S. Department of Justice, for tracking injuries, suicides, assaults and academic performance in juvenile facilities; and the city and county of San Francisco, for a program that tries to change the attitudes and behavior of violent offenders.

Simulcast acceptance

O'Malley will give the keynote speech at the awards ceremony, but from long distance.

The mayor needs to be in Boston tonight, where he is scheduled for a plum, prime-time speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention. So he will address the 1,000 people at the Washington luncheon via satellite, a compromise O'Malley compared to "Brad Pitt coming to the MTV awards by simulcast. Kinda bizarre."

O'Malley, who has been in Boston since Sunday night, thought about flying to Washington to accept what he called "a huge honor" and then back to Beantown to give his address. But the Democratic National Committee turned down that plan, the mayor said.

"The DNC kind of went a little nutty when they heard I was actually considering flying out of town and then coming back the same day when they have me slated to say something we hope will be significant at the convention," O'Malley said by phone from Boston yesterday.

Fillichio said there were no hard feelings that O'Malley will appear only by way of a satellite feed from a studio set up in Boston's FleetCenter where the Democrats are convening.

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