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A Bright Light for Those of Us Who Want to Improve Public Service


September 1, 2012 by Mike Bailey
Category: Management , Finance Advisor

That is how I think of the State Auditor Office's newest offering - the Local Government Performance Center (LGPC). Described as "a resource center for local governments that need to solve problems, reduce costs, and improve the value of their services to citizens," the LGPC will offer a variety of resources and tools to help local governments improve performance and effectiveness. To date, the effort is characterized as a "pilot" to see if this work can really add significant value. Here is a bit about what they are up to and how this might work. The Center's main components include:

  • Training, including online classes and presentations at local government conferences.
  • A virtual library and resource center for improving government performance.
  • Customized on-site training and assessments to improve specific areas or programs on request.

The value of this effort is in how it works to improve performance and prevent problems before they occur. Audits will continue and are an important part of public accountability. While audits (performance or financial) are always evaluating what has already happened - this approach is proactive.

Some projects to date include:

  • Creating two steering committees - one for leading the project and the other a technical experts committee (I have to admit I'm on the committee so I'm a bit biased)
  • Conducted needs assessment so efforts are focused on "customer" needs
  • Training on performance measurement / management ( e.g. Thurston County, City of Spokane)
  • Performance assessment (by invitation from Pierce County, City of DuPont)
  • Creating "LEAN" academy leveraging state agency efforts for local governments
  • Conducted staffing analysis workshops in cooperation with AWC
  • Leveraging learning from past performance audits to create tip sheets (cell phones is a good example)
  • Creating a clearing house of research, examples, best practices via the web site

Improving government performance is not easy, nor is there a clear roadmap for how to get the best performance for the least cost. In addition there are other considerations as well such as managing risks and complying with social norms or laws. Examples of risk management involve the limited ability of governments to try out new or innovative ideas just to see how it works. The risk of failure and/or use of scarce resources on an unproven idea is often too strong a deterrent to encourage innovation. Examples of social norms are such things as "prevailing wage" laws or public bidding requirements to insure fair wages are paid for public projects and equal access exists for public sector work. While these may represent social ideals, they increase costs and complexity.

Initiatives like the "Better, Faster, Cheaper" sponsored by Governing Magazine and the JFK School at Harvard; IBMs Business of Government Center, GFOA's Best Practices and others are helpful. However many of these are pretty academic in their approach. What is needed by most Washington local governments are practical ideas. For example, after conducting a performance audit on cell phone use in state agencies the LGPC leveraged what they learned in that audit and created a pamphlet on how local governments could save money on cell phone costs. While we manage our cell phones pretty well where I work, we did use these tips and have made further improvements. It is these types of ideas that will help us to continue "ratchet up performance".

This project provides hope for the future of the local government performance audit initiative. While the State Auditor's Office has always been an important ally with local governments in serving our communities, I've felt the performance audit has had more potential. With examples like the Local Government Financial Reporting System and the training partnerships with the Washington Finance Officers Association there are plenty of examples of this strong partnership between the SAO and local governments. The LGPC is another example of how this partnership can provide the biggest "bang for the public buck" here in Washington's local governments.

A good sign of all this is how open the staff at the LGPC is to your ideas for how they can help you improve performance at a lower cost. Contact them and see for yourself.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Mike Bailey

Mike Bailey joined MRSC in September 2018 as a Finance Consultant. He has worked in local government finance since 1980 and was the City of Redmond Finance & Technology Director for the past 10 years.

He is a former president of the Washington Government Finance Officers Association (WFOA) and served on their Executive Board. He was chair of the GFOA Budget and Management Committee and is the local government representative to the Streamlined Sales Tax Project.

Mike is a CPA and his BA and MBA are from the University of Puget Sound. Mike conducts workshops on local government financial management, budget, and financial leadership and leads council retreats and strategic planning processes.

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