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The first and most important confidence building step on the road to government by performance is a pilot project. The pilot should be something highly visible and the performance criteria should be something easily measurable that everyone can agree on. A crime bill fits this profile perfectly. I hope everyone would agree that reducing crime is a goal worth spending tax money on. Crime rates are already measured and reported, so no new mechanisms need to be put in place to measure the crime rate. All this makes the performance based federal crime bill rather easy to write. It looks something like this:

  • The federal government will allocate some number of billions each year to be given to the cities to fight crime.
  • In the first year, the money will be shared between the cities based entirely on the crime rate and population (the cities with the most crime per person getting the most money, on the theory that they need it the most).
  • In all subsequent years the money will be handed out strictly on the basis of the performance of the cities at reducing crime. The cities which reduce their crime rate fastest will get a bigger share, the cities which don't change their crime rate, or make it worse, will get a smaller share.

That's it. A complete crime bill. No federal mandates for community police, no federal mandates for prison construction, no midnight basketball, no death penalty for drug dealers, no federal interference with the local government's quest to reduce crime.

There is also no federal standard for the crime rates you have to meet. The performance criteria is relative to what all the other cities are doing. No city can complain they lost funds because they were held to an impossible standard, because the only standard they were held to is one a real city managed to meet.

It is also important to note that the rate at which crime is being reduced is what is measured, not the absolute crime rate itself. Some cities start off with higher crime rates than others, so it wouldn't be right to measure their crime rate after just one year, but we can measure how much they have improved.

This seems like a simple example, but it incorporates several points which will be necessary for the success of government by performance to be successful:

  1. Measure the right thing. In this case, the crime rate is the right thing to measure. The lower the crime rate, the less likely any citizen is to be a victim of crime. That is the important goal. Measuring things like the arrest rate or the number of cops on the street or the number of criminals in prison might be interesting for people who like statistics, but the crime rate is the only number directly related to promoting the general welfare and insuring domestic tranquillity.
  2. Measure progress towards the goal, not the goal itself. Local communities all start off in wildly different relative positions, and it would be unfair to compare those positions, but comparing how much progress each city makes in the same time period is fair, and it allows cities to compete on an equal basis.
  3. Set no absolute standards. Absolute standards which are too tough mean everyone will fail. Absolute standards which are too loose mean no one has an incentive to do better than expected. Give every community the chance to do the best it can, and measure the real performance of real communities against other real communities and the performance of each community will be the best that it can be.
  4. Mandate nothing in the legislation except performance. Performance is what the people of this country want. Most of them are not hung up on building prisons or midnight basketball or any other particular prescription for fighting crime. They just know they want the crime rate to drop, and they don't much care how it happens. By giving every community a free hand, we will find the programs that work best. By making federal funds dependent on performance, we will encourage all cities to adopt the ideas that really work.

Hopefully you are starting to get some idea of the flavor of government by performance. This example deals specifically with crime, but the crime rate is not the only statistic which can be measured that directly impacts the quality of people's lives. Any place we can tap the creative energy of local citizens and government to solve problems by giving them a free hand and an incentive to perform well, we ought to be doing it. Anytime we can replace a detailed federal prescription with an open ended performance measure, we ought to be doing it. When this concept is stretched as far as it can go, then we will really have government by performance.

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Page last modified Mon Nov 24 22:24:38 1997