Information may be the most significant asset held by states, localities and the federal government. That’s part of the reason why so much of it has been made legally public to men and women who aren’t in the government themselves.
Yet, Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial editor of The Washington Post labeled a bevy of federal non-disclosure agreements “not just oppressive, but constitutionally repugnant.”
Not long ago, we wrote an article, for Governing, which takes note that non-disclosure agreements and confidential settlements appear to be in ever-wider use in states and localities.
For example, as the column reports,
“Secret agreements have also generated controversy in Massachusetts state government. There, The Boston Globe has made a public records request for copies of 33 confidential settlements signed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo since 2010. So far, it has refused the Globe’s request. But in March, the House did pass a measure to release former chamber employees from any non-disclosure agreements they had signed. . .
“Legislation to curtail agreements or settlements that require confidentiality have since been introduced in Pennsylvania as well as California, New Jersey, New York and Washington state. Most of the bills specifically relate to sexual harassment or discrimination and would apply to both the public and private sector.”
Fortunately for the citizenry, the press, advocacy groups and others interested in seeing information that legally belongs to them and is paid for by public dollars, some states and cities already limit secret agreements. That includes San Francisco, which prohibits the city from entering into confidential settlements.
All of this can be a blow to potential whistleblowers. Though the feds strongly protect people’s ability to report wrongdoing, state laws tend to be somewhat weaker and may not even be known to employees, Tom Devine told us. He is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, an organization dedicated to protecting whistleblowers.
Congratulations to the great city of San Diego. The following press release just crossed our desk:
Confirming his commitment to making the City of San Diego as innovative as the people it serves, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer today announced that San Diego has been named the nation’s top performing data-driven city by Governing magazine.
The magazine’s annual “Equipt to Innovate” report ranked San Diego No. 1 nationally for using data to improve performance and create a culture of efficiency. It also recognized San Diego as one of the top five cities nationwide for being resident-involved, employee-engaged and smartly resourced.
“This recognition reflects our efforts to ensure government is as innovative as the people we serve,” Mayor Faulconer said. “San Diego is using data to fix our roads, make neighborhoods safer and cleaner, and create more opportunities for residents. These are services San Diegans depend on and we’re using data to get results.”
In recent years, the City has focused on increasing its use of data and technology to improve transparency and performance. Key measures include:
· Becoming the largest City in the country to create a data portal where residents and employees can download datasets
· Hiring the region’s first Chief Data Officer
· Developing StreetsSD so users can monitor street conditions and schedule road repair
· Making San Diego the largest city in the nation to have a user-friendly online portal for public records requests
· Providing dozens of city data sets to the public through the City’s first Open Data Portal
· Creating PerformSD to allow the public to track performance through 40 visualizations linked to key performance indicators
· Deploying the Get It Done application to allow residents to report neighborhood issues, including potholes, graffiti and illegal dumping
San Diego’s biannual resident and employee satisfaction surveys, work with public and private sector partners and communication efforts also helped secure this recognition.
“We are utilizing technology to empower residents, streamline government and drive civic engagement,” said City Councilmember Mark Kersey, whose private-sector background is in the technology industry. “In 2013, I drafted our Open Data policy with the help of local tech experts, because the City’s data belongs to the people of San Diego. Mayor Faulconer has taken that commitment to transparency and innovation to the next level and made San Diego one of the highest-performing cities in the nation.”
San Diego and other high-performing cities will be recognized at the 2018 Summit on Government Performance & Innovation, an annual gathering of more than 600 innovators, public sector change-agents, disrupters and civic entrepreneurs making government work better for local communities.
The 2018 ranking surveyed 74 cities, up 23 percent from 2017. Those cities represent 53 million residents, including all 10 of the largest U.S. cities.
“Residents and businesses expect cities to provide nimble and robust responses to today’s challenges and opportunities,” said Mark Funkhouser, publisher of Governing. “The results of the second annual Equipt to Innovate survey show that a critical mass of American cities – along with their diverse networks of public, private and civic institutions – are investing in and building the many things that make communities good places to live.”
For a comprehensive overview of the survey findings and a discussion of how cities fared across the categories, download the report “Profiles in High-Performance Government: Cities on the Move.” “Equipt to Innovate” is a joint initiative launched by Living Cities and Governing magazine.
We’ve written extensively about the overabundance of expensive and unnecessary licensing in the states.
With that in mind, we were excited to see an e-mail release come to us from the Institute of Justice at about 5:30 P.M. on April 23, 2018. We thought we’d pass the gist of it along, edited for space:
“Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the Occupational Board Reform Act on Monday afternoon, a landmark law that will systematically reduce the state’s burdensome and arbitrary licenses. Today, Nebraska has more than 170 different occupational licenses, which cover almost a quarter of the state’s workforce.
“‘Far too many workers are spending their time earning a license when they should be earning a living,’ said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice. ‘With this new law, Gov. Ricketts and the Nebraska Unicameral have transformed Nebraska into a national leader for slashing red tape and expanding economic opportunity. The Occupational Board Reform Act sets a landmark model for other states to follow.’
“As part of the new law’s rigorous “sunset review” process, every year, legislative standing committees will examine one-fifth of the state’s occupational regulations to identify any rules or laws that should be repealed or modified so that they are the least restrictive. Similar bills are also under consideration in Colorado, Louisiana, and Ohio.
“’Regulation does not have to be a binary choice between licensing and no licensing,’ McGrath explained. ‘ least restrictive framework grants policymakers a wider array of regulatory options including private certification, inspections, bonding, and registration. Occupational licensing should only be a policy of last resort.'”
It’s important to understand that licensing has its place in states, in order to protect the citizenry. No one would particularly want to see surgeons wielding a scalpel without the appropriate licensure. But when it comes to licensing for florists — well, there’s a bit difference between cutting a heart and cutting a bunch of red roses.
Utah has voted to disclose a long-term forecast for revenues and expenditures. And boy, does that make us happy.
Over the course of years, we’ve been involved in a great many projects that evaluated states, counties or cities in terms of their success in a variety of management or policy areas. The frustration of these exercises, frequently, is that it’s difficult to see the payoff from the recommendations we make. That doesn’t mean we haven’t influenced governmental actions on a number of occasions. It’s just that it’s frequently difficult to prove the cause and effect.
We bring this up as a means of telling you about a happy event, involving a new long-term forecast for revenues and expenditures, that followed the Volcker Alliance’s release of Budget Report Cards for Utah and forty-nine other states earlier this year as well as the study Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: What is the Reality? published in November 2017: Utah legislators took heed of the Volcker Alliance’s recommendations and are beginning to issue a long-term forecast for its expenditures and revenues. As senior project consultants for the Volcker Alliance, we were deeply involved — along with a diligent crew of Volcker employees and contractors as well as a number of universities — in this effort and we wanted to brag a bit.
The easiest way to do that, as you’ll see, is to excerpt from the press release issued by the Volcker Alliance a few days back:
“The House and Senate of the State of Utah unanimously passed House Bill 452 to institute multiyear [forecast] estimates for state revenues and expenses as advocated by the Volcker Alliance. . . “The new Utah law, titled Legislative Fiscal Analyst Amendments, requires the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst to evaluate current and long-term trends relating to taxes and federal fund receipts and requires the initiation of a three-year cycle of analysis on revenue volatility and other budget matters.
“William Glasgall (pictured here), senior vice president and director of the Volcker Alliance’s state and local initiatives, said, ‘in fiscal 2015 through 2017, only nine states received average A grades for their budget forecasting procedures in our study. The Utah legislation addresses some of the areas in which Utah could improve its budget practices. It is gratifying to see the positive changes Utah has introduced and we look forward to assisting other states to introduce similar improvements. Our goal is to provide tailored insights and tools to help elected officials, investors, policy advocates, and citizens determine and improve their state’s fiscal governance and sustainability . . ‘
“In floor speeches House Majority Leader Brad R. Wilson and Senator Kevin T. Van Tassell both credited the Volcker Alliance with providing the impetus for the bill.
In his remarks, Senator Van Tassell referred to the Alliance’s grades for Utah’s budget practices and said ‘One of the areas where Volcker Alliance . . . said Utah could improve [is] longer term budgeting. This bill addresses that goal and strengthens our tradition of planning for the worst and hoping for the best.’