Monday, March 03, 2008

Pew Center On The States Issues Their "Grading The States 2008" Report, Awards Alaska A Letter Grade Of "C" On Government Performance

On March 3rd, 2008, the Pew Center on the States released a 61-page report entitled "Grading The States 2008", which assesses the effects of government performance in all 50 states. View their press release HERE, and the 61-page report in PDF format HERE. The report contains the individual summaries on all states, starting on page 37 of the report.

National media story published by the Associated Press.

"Grading the States 2008" is the only 50-state assessment of its kind that evaluates and grades each state based on a range of areas, from budget and finance to roads and bridges. The report demonstrates the importance of state governments that work better and cost less, particularly in the wake of widespread budget deficits and a weakening national economy.

Fostering meaningful change through fact-based research provides all states with useful knowledge to pursue innovative solutions that will strengthen performance and service to the public,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. “State leaders and managers should look beyond the grade and pursue the opportunity that the report provides: to operate more efficiently and effectively, improve transparency, and be more accountable for results.”

Overall state performance in 2008 ranged from A- (Utah, Virginia, and Washington) to D+ (New Hampshire). The national average among the 50 states was B-, which 18 states received. Thirteen states earned grades above the national average and 19 states’ grades were below the national average. Alaska was one of the other 18 states, earning a grade of "C".

States that received the highest grades are making better management a top priority. Washington state holds governor-led public meetings to monitor program results and improvements; Utah has implemented a financial tracking system that provides real-time data for decision-making; and Virginia provides employee rewards linked to improved service delivery and agency goals. States that received lower marks, like New Hampshire, have limited cost and performance information and are not closely managing resources.

Report findings are the result of a thorough and rigorous review by a panel of the nation’s leading state government management experts that paints a clear and complete picture of states’ performance. State-level managers and opinion leaders provided more than 12,000 pieces of data. States are not ranked, or graded against each other; they are graded based on a set of criteria, including recruiting and retaining highly qualified, productive public employees; using information and technology to measure performance and communicate more effectively with the public; managing fiscal resources from budgeting to procurement; and planning for, maintaining and improving roads, bridges and buildings. A more detailed list of criteria is provided on page 34 of the report.

The summary on Alaska can be found on page 38 of the report. Here are Alaska's categorical grades:

(1). Overall: C

(2). Money: C-. Deficient in long-term outlook and budget process. Average in structural balance, contracting/purchasing, and financial controls/reporting.

(3). People: C-. Deficient in strategic workforce planning, hiring, and managing employee performance. Average in retaining employees and training and development.

(4). Infrastructure: C-. Deficient in capital planning, maintenance, and internal coordination. Average in project monitoring and intergovernmental coordination.

(5). Information: B-. No deficient areas. Excels at online services and information. Average in strategic direction, budgeting for performance, managing for performance, and performance auditing and evaluation.

The report criticizes Alaska's unwillingness to spend money wisely, citing a 2007 legislative decision to add supplemental projects to the state's capital budget while allocating much less to reduce a deferred-maintenance backlog exceeding $1 billion for state buildings alone. The report is also critical of Alaska's difficulty in identifying, hiring, and retaining quality employees.

In 2005, the Pew Center issued a similar report, twenty pages in PDF format. While it does not provide individual summaries for the states, it provides graphs showing the categorial grades for each state. The report indicates that, in 2005, Alaska was assessed an overall grade of "C+", a money grade of "C", a people grade of "C+", an infrastructure grade of "C+", and an information grade of "C". So we can see than Alaska's performance has deteriorated slightly since that time, except for the noticeable improvement in information. Both the legislature and the Palin Adminstration have placed a stronger emphasis on improving information management and flow; state websites have improved in accessibility and user-friendliness during the interim.

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. The Pew Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing the states.

Commentary: It appears the Pew Center on the States advocates a more corporate approach for the states, based upon the straining economy and growing budget deficits. While some ideas can be borrowed from the private sector and implemented, one must remember that the public sector cannot be as selective as the private sector. In addition, the private sector must be more profit-oriented because it lacks the power of taxation.

We cannot turn the states into full-blown corporate entities.

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