There is a third way to government success that needs to be addressed. Some say that we need to reduce the government’s size (and thus taxes), while others declare that more money is needed to accomplish goals.
But there is the "third way," where government works more efficiently and effectively.
I have proposed to business organizations that I belong that a three- to five-person committee be created to help government improve services, to define the goal(s) for these services and to create a plan to execute their ideas.
Here is a sampling of ideas.
When we transport people, what are we trying to accomplish? It is not merely moving people from one point to another, is it? We want to transport young children to school. We want to provide workers with transportation to their jobs (or to where jobs are). We want to reduce the stress on limited parking needs. We want to move people quickly to Racine, Kenosha and Chicago. We want to reduce pollution in our communities.
You will note that I have not mentioned the "how" of buses, light rail, airports, or trains. They may be part of a solution, but what is needed is a plan for our region. Do we have such an integrated plan? No.
For example, our bus schedules are based on political pressure, old routes and the desire to load as many passengers that we can on one bus, rather than good, fast and affordable service. Can schedules for large users such as hospital, schools or businesses be adjusted? Can routes be changed to meet needs? Can we do more with less?
How do we control the cost of operating government? A good example is Milwaukee Public Schools, which controls costs by locking in its fuel expenses once a year. But when was the last time that we took an energy survey of our buildings and invested in zoning sections, lighting that uses half the energy of the current system or simple insulation to reduce heating and cooling cost? The pay-back could be immediate and long-lasting.
In regards to health care, why can’t our local providers work together? I recall sitting in former Mayor John Norquist’s Healthcare Cost Containment project and hearing – in horror – the terrible waste that came from creating duplicate computer systems. The goal and purpose of these systems were the same, but each health care group was reinventing the wheel. I calculated from the numbers given at one meeting that we wasted $350 million in duplicate spending. Of course, we, the users of these services, eventually pay. The reasons for this duplication can be attributed to distrust and ego. Why did business not pressure the providers to cooperate?
I did a little project that was inspired by the Norquist project. I wondered what one intelligent business person could do if he looked at one area of health care. I selected nurse retention. As a futurist, I have seen the projection of a 1 million nurse shortage by 2010. I spoke with many nurses, read several studies and came up with several ideas that would help solve this problem with little or no money.
Waste in Wisconsin road building could be reduced by adopting best methods. The Marquette Interchange, for example, is on schedule and on budget. One reason for this success is the use of weekly audits, allowing adjustments immediately.
I had occasion to visit with Department of Transportation staff in Madison on a matter for the Regional Telecommunications Commission that I chaired. I asked the DOT staff if they had considered using this audit system on their own projects, since their own projects rarely come in on time or on budget. I also suggested that mandated environmental studies be done in a coordinated manner at one time, rather than over several years.
This would require upfront funding to the Department of Natural Resources, but would save (I estimated) three years. The staff was actually offended that I would make such suggestions.
There are many other ways that the "Third Way" could make governmental operations run more effectively and efficiently. We need only have the will to take the first step.
Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman who has long been active in local government.