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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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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