Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1844 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 14:50:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Renewed Push for 'Performance Budgeting' Through Mayor's Management Report http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6754:push-for-performance-budgeting-through-mayor-s-management-report http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6754:push-for-performance-budgeting-through-mayor-s-management-report 24722286022 fc206fafab z

Council Member Ben Kallos (Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)


A critical study by a fiscal watchdog on the city’s annual performance report has led to renewed calls for city agencies to base their budgets on the efficiency of services.

The Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, released an analysis earlier this month of the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), a detailed survey of city agencies and their functioning which the Mayor's Office of Operations puts out twice a year. The preliminary version of the report, the PMMR, covering the first four months of the 2017 fiscal year, was released last Monday and will be followed by the full MMR in September.

The MMR contains performance evaluations of 44 city agencies, helping the city improve the efficiency and delivery of services and helping the public keep the administration accountable. Elected officials rely on the reports to conduct oversight of agencies, citing them in annual budget hearings.

CBC’s report notes, however, that while the MMR has thousands of indicators related to the “volume or quality” of services, there is little examination of efficiency through unit-cost measures, which gauge the city’s spending on each unit of service. “Unit cost indicators enhance accountability, inform operational changes, and highlight ways to increase efficiency,” the report reads.

The city’s already limited use of unit cost indicators has declined, according to the CBC’s analysis, and in last year’s MMR for fiscal year 2016, only 10 agencies reported a total of 35 unit cost indicators out of more than 2,000 metrics tracked by the city. These include, for instance, the cost to the Fire Department per ambulance tour per day, which grew from $1,799 in fiscal year 2012 to $1,937 in 2016, a 7.7 percent increase. In the same period, the average cost for the Department of Citywide Services to train a city employee fell 56 percent from $253 to $112. The report points out that the city can easily create more such unit cost indicators with current data and recommends steps to implement those measures across city agencies, including aligning units of appropriation with specific services and linking service quality with cost and efficiency.

“While the MMR provides thousands of indicators, the report is short on indicators that assess the efficiency of city government operations,” said Ana Champeny, director of city studies, CBC, in an email. “The City should develop more unit-cost measures that could support agencies in making their operations more cost-efficient.”

Elected officials and good government advocates have long been pushing for an improved MMR, calling for increasing the number of indicators and clarifying how agencies measure their performance. Last year, at an April oversight hearing on the MMR held by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, many of those concerns were raised, including the need to link agency funding with performance.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, has been pushing the city to do better for years and, at his request, the latest reports now show spending information by general categories of appropriation. But, he points out, the report still fails to connect budgeting with agency goals, despite being mandated by the city charter. “The MMR should be treated as an investment document,” Kallos said in a phone interview, “and spending should be tied to specific programmatic performance goals so New York City residents know how their tax dollars are being spent and can advocate for them to be increased or decreased.”

He noted, for instance, that the PMMR shows more homeless families and individuals entering the system than in previous years, as reflective of the city’s homelessness crisis. At the same time, it also shows fewer adults exiting permanent supportive housing than before. “If we have performance budgeting, the mayor would have to say he’s spending certain amounts of money to improve that number,” Kallos said. “We would be able to tie the amount of spending to that number and we’d be able to understand what the barrier is and possibly solve it with more funding.”

Government reform groups have argued that the city has improved the MMR but has been slow to institute certain common sense changes that have been recommended for years. “[The MMR] was a huge leap forward when it was first introduced forty years ago,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, and co-chair and founder of the New York City Transparency Working Group. “It is basically obsolete. It needs to evolve so the public, the City Council and the mayor himself can tell how city agencies are doing.”

Pushing for a more comprehensive MMR, Kaehny said, would be consistent with the city’s reputation as a national leader in areas of open governance and transparency. He also believes that the charter’s mandate, to make MMR goals linked to the budget, is more realistic now than it has ever been, with the ubiquity of data and the means to compute it in the digital age. “This is a logical evolution of the MMR,” he said, although pointing out that city agencies and public sector unions may be wary of such scrutiny. “This would really put them under a microscope, it would show trends citywide and show how efficient the city can provide services over private entities.”

Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that the city’s public reporting of data on delivery of services has been more comprehensive and transparent “than any other major urban jurisdiction in the country” for the last forty years. “We continue to work closely with our colleagues at the Office of Management and Budget to further align performance and spending,” she said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

With reporting by Ben Max.

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Renewed Push for 'Performance Budgeting' Through Mayor's Management Report Mon, 13 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000
Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6270:push-for-a-better-mayors-management-report-continues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6270:push-for-a-better-mayors-management-report-continues 311-cust-serv 


The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to evaluate the structure and content of two annual city reports that measure everything from the wait times on 311 calls and the conditions of city parks to the number of unsheltered homeless people and traffic crashes in the city each year. These key performance indicators help the City Council and the public keep city agencies and offices accountable. Those agencies, in turn, rely on these reports to improve their policies and functioning.

The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (PMMR), two weeks after the January financial plan, and the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), in September. The reports include evaluations of annual goals set by 41 city agencies and 3 non-mayoral agencies that report directly to the Mayor, and whether these agencies are succeeding or failing to meet their objectives.

Wednesday’s hearing, the third one held by the governmental operations committee on this issue, gave Council members an opportunity to delve into the process of how agency goals are included in the reports and to reiterate their request for adding more data to future reports. Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, highlighted some of the key concerns the Council has about a lack of clarity in certain agency goals, agency indicators with no set targets, and the need to directly link agency performance with corresponding budget allocations.

The PMMR and MMR are produced over six to eight weeks by the Mayor’s Office of Operations (MOO). About 10 MOO staff members work with more than 150 senior staff across the agencies, including deputy mayors and agency commissioners, and coordinate efforts with City Hall to release the final products, which detail agency goals and indicators of whether those goals are being met year after year.

There are 1649 metrics by which agency performance is tracked in the two reports. Examples include quality-of-life summonses issued by the New York Police Department, the number of people on the city’s cash assistance rolls, the average daily attendance in city schools, and the number of families entering the city’s homeless shelter system.

The report tracked the NYPD’s goal to reduce the number of quality-of-life violations, a critical indicator without a set target. The four-month numbers (the timeframe for the PMMR) fell from 142,434 in Fiscal 2015 to 125, 685 in Fiscal 2016.

Under the Department of Education’s performance, the report looked at average daily attendance in city schools, which surpassed the 91.7 percent target in Fiscal 2016 (93.2 percent) and Fiscal 2015 (93.5 percent). Similarly, the report showed that the Department of Homeless Services had been successful in reducing the number of adult families entering the shelter system from 521 families to 466.

The data, which is available on an interactive website, includes comparisons with previous years, five-year trends and a look at desired directions for performance. This year’s PMMR data was also available on the city’s Open Data Portal, providing public access to all the information collected under the report. Kallos, an ardent supporter of transparent and accessible information and technology, praised MOO for this effort.

“We really take care not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to targets and indicators in the PMMR and MMR,” said Mindy Tarlow, MOO director, at one point during Wednesday’s hearing. “We try to see each indicator and each agency as a complex diverse case that’s in some ways reflective of the complex diverse city that we’re monitoring and reporting on.”

City Council members took turns questioning Tarlow and her colleague Tina Chiu, deputy director for performance management. The members usually stuck with issues germane to issue committees they chair or sit on, but the larger concerns voiced at the hearing were about the lack of targets for many critical performance indicators and the ways in which targets are set and the reports are improved.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the government operations committee, commended MOO for changes they had made to the PMMR based on recommendations from a December 2015 hearing about how targets were defined in the reports. This year’s PMMR included a more nuanced description of targets, which can be numeric or directional. Numeric targets set expected performance levels including a maximum that should not be exceeded or a minimum level that should be met. Directional targets indicate whether an indicator should go up or down. Many indicators had no target at all, which gave cause for concern to Kallos and Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, who testified at the hearing.

When Kallos asked why certain indicators had no targets, citing the number of lawsuits brought against the city as an example, Tarlow clarified that many of these indicators are “neutral” statistics out of their control, such as certain population numbers, for which it’s impossible to set directional targets.

“Although the committee is pleased that some improvements have been made,” Kallos said in his opening statement, “our review of the most recent PMMR suggests that further changes could make both of these publications more helpful tools for the Council, the public, as well as  the agencies.”

The City Council, in its Monday response to the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, identified 57 indicators across 18 agencies that they want included in the MMR going forward. Kallos brought this up at the hearing, specifically pointing to indicators for the Board of Standards and Appeals, which falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is under Kallos’ committee’s oversight. He also mentioned a City Council data study that found 107 indicators (70 critical ones) where there was a 28 percent discrepancy over last year’s PMMR and average performance over the prior three years.

kallos rules hearingKallos (pictured*) also questioned Tarlow and Chiu about indicators relating to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 311 helpline system and the Department of Homeless Services, but his main concerns were about holding people accountable for changes to the PMMR and MMR, further clarifying how targets are defined, minimizing the number of indicators without targets, and linking performance indicators in the PMMR to the corresponding allocations in the preliminary budget, as the City Charter mandates for the PMMR.

“Who has ultimate responsibility for the changes that are being implemented?” Kallos asked Tarlow, frustrated that Council members’ requests for additional indicators in the past had been routinely agreed to by agencies but not followed through on. “Is it with the agency or Operations, and how do those changes actually end up happening?

Tarlow stressed that the creation and addition of indicators was a collaborative process with agencies. “We don’t dictate play to the agencies and the agencies don’t just unilaterally make changes,” she said, agreeing to consider improvements in communication with Council members. She also said that they had started to work with the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget to cross-reference and link the PMMR with the preliminary budget.

Kallos’ concerns were echoed by Dadey, who reiterated recommendations that Citizens Union had made in the past, which shows, he said, “a challenge that we face that we’ve been back here several times making the same recommendations and while some of them get adopted we think that some of the more common sense ones are not being embraced and we’re at a loss to understand why.”

Dadey floated three specific proposals: setting targets for half the indicators in the report which had no metrics to judge them by (the number of indicators with no target increased from 948 to 961 this year from last); providing more budget detail alongside performance indicators; and expanded reporting on cross-agency initiatives to track transparency (for instance Freedom of Information Law requests) and voting registration programs at agencies.

He called the lack of targets for half the proposals “disconcerting” as “it indicates one of two troubling possibilities. Either the agency experienced difficulty in setting goals in coordination with the office of the mayor or that these goals have been established and are possibly being concealed from the public. Neither is satisfactory,” he said.

To the administration’s credit, MOO has made effort to add sections on multi-agency initiatives, such as IDNYC, which was eventually folded into the report on the Human Resources Administration. “That’s what we want,” Tarlow said in response to questions from Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “To really feature a multi-agency new initiative and then have it be so routine that it becomes baked into the fabric of what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Menchaca wanted to know how the PMMR and MMR reports evolve and about efforts to make the report machine readable. His larger concern, as chair of the Council’s immigration committee, was that the data be accessible to New York’s immigrant communities. “What do you do to get the report out in other languages?,” he asked.

Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.

Lisa Neary, general counsel for the Independent Budget Office, also testified, although less about the content of the reports than the process. IBO had testified at the December 2015 hearing as well, recommending legislation that would require citizen surveys to be included in the reports. The idea has been championed for a long time by Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio and a relevant bill has been introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson, though it has not received a vote.

On Wednesday, Neary focused on the timing of the two reports. She said the PMMR being released early in the year was inadequate since it only accounts for the first four months of the financial year (July to October).

“With only this partial picture in hand,” Neary said, “the Council lacks crucial information that would allow you to link objectives to resources, and resources to outcomes.” She cited the current PMMR’s data on Department of Education programs, where at least a dozen critical indicators were listed as “not available.” She said the MMR’s release was “even more poorly timed,” and should be some time between January and June to have maximum influence on budget decisions.

When Kallos asked her for suggestions, she said perhaps the MMR should be released with the executive budget in May and then a full accounting of the year should come out in October or November. “The key thing is to have as much information as you can at the time that you’re making resource allocation decisions,” she said.

Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, questioned Tarlow and Chiu about PMMR indicators on park maintenance and capital park projects, as well as on the lack of information on eviction prevention and legal services. Council Member Vincent Gentile, in keeping with his position as chair of the oversight and investigations committee, asked MOO to consider tracking the performance of individual Inspectors General under the Department of Investigation. Tarlow had ready answers for both Council members and promised to discuss their concerns with individual agencies.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.

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Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues Thu, 07 Apr 2016 19:34:38 +0000