June 15, 2003 – Transparency, ethics, teamwork, performance-based budgeting and customer service are key to any government's fiscal recovery and stability, according to the deputy mayor of Washington D.C.
The business of the government should be conducted in a way that no one would mind having it published on the front page of St. Thomas Source, Herbert R. Tillery told a public-private sector group at a forum on "Leadership and Management Requirements for Effective Government" on Saturday morning.
The forum was organized and sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, who also acted as master of ceremonies.
In order to avoid "betraying the public's trust," Tillery said, those in government must avoid even "the appearance of impropriety."
Tillery, deputy mayor for operations for the government of the District of Columbia, said it is "very important that you have the objective to adhere to the highest standards" and go about the business of conducting the people's business with honest intentions, and therefore "facilitate positive ethical behavior" in the entire workforce. He went so far as to suggest hiring an "ethics counselor" to that end.
In the D.C. government, Tillery said, there is a policy to provide the news media with any information they could otherwise obtain with a Freedom of Information request, without their having to do so. "Why make them go through that?" he said. "We give it to them."
That policy is a far cry from Virgin Islands practice. The local news media are routinely stonewalled when seeking public documents and information. Even the Legislature is unable to obtain financial records from executive branch agencies and departments without a struggle sometimes.
Tillery also said competitive bidding must be done in the open. Everyone should know who gets the contracts and be able to monitor whether the same companies keep winning the bids. Contracts should be set aside for small businesses, too, he said.
The District of Columbia has a chief financial officer who does not work for either the mayor's office or the city council. "He is independent … and very vocal and will go to the press" about matters that he feels need to be exposed, Tillery said.
Teamwork, cooperation and accountability
Tillery repeatedly emphasized the need for all entities, public and private, along with the citizenry to get on the same page and have the same vision. He said this was accomplished in D.C. by conducting "citizen summits." After one such summit — attended by 2,000 people — the government's fiscal managers were able to "arrange the budget around what citizens wanted." At another summit two years later, the attendees were asked to assess the success of the arrangement.
"If you share the vision," Tillery said, "then everything will be about moving the island forward." In order to share the vision, he said, "you have to get rid of obstacles … that undermine the change." And one way of doing that is through performance based employment and budgeting.
"You have to have a way of measuring performance," according to Tillery.
On the employment side, specific objectives are developed for every employee, starting with management. "If they don't meet the objectives, they are dismissed," he said.
Providing training and higher salaries for those employees who don't have "protective rights," as in labor unions, can be an incentive to rise to meet the goals set for managers, Tillery said. "If you are doing a good job, you have no fear of being released."
Tillery admitted this approach wouldn't work with some employees: "There is a certain layer of people who do just enough to get by."
But labor leaders also bought into the D.C. coalition, Tillery said, because they understood the expectations and importance of working together. He said they were told that "we need your support to move us to the next level of service delivery."
He said the labor leaders had to prepare their union members to make sacrifices.
"You can't have part of the population demanding raises" while another part is taking the cuts. "It can't always be labor asking management to make sacrifices," he said.
Performance should also be the benchmark for appropriations. "Instead of cutting people, cut programs" that are not meeting their goals, or that are unnecessary, Tillery said.
The process of assessing performance was started in D.C. with a few pilot programs in a few of the agencies that were easiest to assess, he said. But after five years, nearly all of the agencies and departments have fallen in line with performance-based budgeting.
One way to start a pilot performance-evaluation program is with departments such as Public Works that are easy to assess, Tillery said.
And in fact Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in his presentation as one of the forum panelists that his office is "moving in the direction of modifying its budget process by implementing performance-based budgeting."
Mills called performance-based budgeting an "investment management approach to budgeting" with a premise that "departments consume resources through activities" which in turn "produce outputs that are either positive or negative."
Therefore, Mills said, "Since these outputs are measurable, funds are invested in those activities that offer the best return on the investment."
He said the long-term results of such budget management is "better control over resources and accountability for results."
Again, Tillery noted the importance of transparency in the process. "We published the results" of the D.C. performance evaluations, he said.
Speaking of appropriations, Tillery said, once a balanced budget is established, it doesn't work to re-appropriate funds that aren't there.
Senate President David Jones, another panel participant, agreed, saying the Legislature's tendency to "appropriate the same money over and over" must stop.
Taxpayers as paying customers
Customer service was another area evaluated closely in the D.C. process. Employees were monitored for how quickly they answered the telephone, how pleasant they were with callers and how promptly and effectively problems got resolved.
Tillery said part of the challenge in customer service is to understand that the role of government is to serve the people. It's what the private sector contributes through taxes that keeps the government afloat, he said, and therefore the government's responsibility is to provide the services needed by the people who are paying the taxes — which, he noted, includes government workers themselves.
Tillery could not say what the ratio of government workers to private sector workers is in the District of Columbia, but "we have a huge private sector," he said.
In the Virgin Islands, government workers make up about 25 percent of the work force.
Prior to being appointed to his present position in April of last year, Tillery was involved in government from an outside perspective — as a consultant/adviser to the appointed federal board that temporarily took control of the Washington, D.C., local government in the 1995 and oversaw the reform of its financial operations.
One attendee at Saturday's forum said that was the key: "Nothing ever changes without a crisis."
It was certainly true of D.C., which has now stood on its own two feet — meaning having a balanced budget — for the last five years.
Tillery said that the minute the budget isn't balanced, the control board stands ready to return.
The V.I. crisis could come at the end of June when, according to the execu
tive branch, there won't be enough money to make the payroll of about $14 million — unless the Senate approves more borrowing and more taxes as proposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull last month.
Administration officials also said last week that they now expect the deficit for 2003 to reach $155 million. The shortfall was placed at $100 million in April, then $115 million, then $144 million before the latest adjustment.
Along with Malone and Jones, Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Roosevelt David and Louis Hill were present for Saturday's forum.
Also on the panel were Cassan Pancham, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce; Edouard DeLagarde from Delegate Donna M. Christensen's office; Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, University of the Virgin Islands provost; and Kevin Rodriguez, Personnel Division acting director. Although listed on the roster of panelists, neither the governor nor union representatives were present.
Economist Richard Moore moderated the discussion.
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