CitiStat maximizes Baltimore’s efficiency by using data from the city’s 311 call center to manage agencies and adjust performance as necessary.
In remarks at Harvard University four years ago, Baltimore Mayor Martin J. O’Malley said, “In order to change the outcomes produced by government, you have to change what government does.” Baltimore was doing just that, he went on to say, by measuring what government produces “and creating a mechanism to make timely changes.”
When he took over city hall at the end of 1999, O’Malley faced an unusual management challenge. To begin with, Baltimore depends on significant federal and Maryland state support to meet its needs. In many instances, that requires the city to carry out federal, state, and city directives concurrently, sometimes at variance with one another.
Then there is the fact that Maryland, not Baltimore, runs a number of important city operations, among them mass transit, schools, prisons, and the port. In addition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development controls a fraction of Baltimore’s many vacant houses because of foreclosures made via the city’s housing authority. Finally, Baltimore was burdened by a high crime rate and personal income and home values well below the state average. The city’s income tax revenue had been undermined by erosion of its tax base.
All this showed the clear need for vigilant stewardship of financial resources and thorough accountability for what the city does. So O’Malley looked north, to New York City. He had heard about CompStat, a program that uses computers and maps to track locales where assaults, burglaries, and murders occur most often—a system that puts police on the spot to prevent crime from happening. Persuaded that this kind of fact gathering, with its intense engagement of police commanders, could apply to all government activities, O’Malley adapted the method to his own city, beginning in mid-2000 with Baltimore’s Bureau of Solid Waste.
The Birth of CitiStat
That was the birth of CitiStat, which grew to embrace nearly two dozen city agencies. Cranked into the program is the city’s 311 call manager operation. Call manager gives citizens quick, easy access to report problems and steers reports to the proper agencies for fast response. Together with operations data reported at frequent intervals by city agencies, the information collected by call manager supplies critical input into the CitiStat process.
How exactly does CitiStat work? Every two weeks, city agencies covered by the system must work up and submit reports on an extensive range of performance and human resources data and indicators. The reports range along a spectrum of information that usually includes progress toward agency goals and effectiveness in managing decisions such as overtime and employee leave. Twice monthly, the mayor, his deputy, and selected cabinet members grill agency heads and their management teams on what they have reported. These meetings take place in a specially designed briefing room, equipped with two projection screens that portray the report information. The mayor and his team (the mayor calls them his command staff) ask agency leaders to account for their performance.
Problems are identified, and when necessary the agencies get help to tackle them. Each two weeks’ worth of data reported by an agency frames short- and long-term adjustments of resources throughout the organization. The changes affect the agency’s pursuit of its mission immediately and over time; later meetings judge how effective they have been. Staff analysts assigned by CitiStat to each agency study reports, highlight important issues, and produce charts, maps, and photos that portray or supplement the data reported, all part of the screen displays at the biweekly sessions.
In effect, CitiStat runs Baltimore’s government, maximizing its efficiency by using numbers to see what agencies are doing and closely adjusting performance as necessary. CitiStat guides the development of strategies and their execution, holds managers and workers accountable, and almost constantly measures and evaluates results to generate more effective operations.
A small but characteristic example is the system’s management of a big backlog in uninspected food establishments. The city’s health standards mandate a hazardous analysis and critical control point inspection of restaurants at least once a year. At one point, though, the backlog had risen into the hundreds and was reported in the media. At its next CitiStat session, the city health department revealed that it had standards for the frequency of restaurant inspections, but no productivity standards for inspectors. With CitiStat’s help, the department soon developed them. Inspectors were required to visit more restaurants per workday without reducing the quality of inspections. A few months later, the department had eliminated the backlog.
Not to be overlooked is the continual interaction CitiStat maintains between agency leadership and cabinet officials with cross-city responsibilities for personnel, budget and financial operations, labor-management issues, legal matters, and technology. This interaction is a proven route to better overall coordination and cost effectiveness in municipal government, not to mention sustained and increased progress toward the city’s and mayor’s goals. O’Malley says that CitiStat has pushed Baltimore “from an old spoils-based system of patronage politics” to a better way of operating based on results.
New City Management Techniques
This brisk advance to the forefront of city management techniques, however, has not involved a parallel move into fragile, expensive high technology to make it work.
Instead, the system has relied on information technology already in place. Payrolls and geographic information system mapping are among the preexisting capabilities that allow the city to track activities like road repair, snow removal, recycling, sick and accident leave, and overtime. This monitoring is audited and strengthened by regular field tests and citizen satisfaction surveys.
To do a better job by using systems already in hand, rather than by obtaining and imposing costly new technology is, in its own way, to manage innovatively. Moreover, the city has improved accountability by combining CitiStat’s biweekly consultative and accountability process with the annual reporting of performance data required by the state and federal entities that, as noted, fund a number of Baltimore programs. Those creative approaches are two of the underlying qualities that helped propel CitiStat to an Innovations in American Government Award in 2004. To each of its annual winners, this award brings a $100,000 cash prize, which winners use to promote public-sector innovation as well as replication of their achievements. The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University and the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government administer the award program.
CitiStat’s results are, of course, what caught the attention of the award judges:
- In its first year, the system paid for itself for at least several years by saving $13 million, including a drop in overtime outlays alone of $5.8 million. Under CitiStat, nearly all potholes are repaired within forty-eight hours and more trees are planted. Complaints filed by Baltimore against lead paint poisoning increased by almost 500 percent from the 1990s; the initiation and completion of lead-safe abatements in housing units are both up strongly. Violent crime has dropped by 48 percent, and the city is leading the nation in the rate of reduction of violent crime since 1999. Towing of abandoned vehicles increased 22 percent. In 2002, the city removed four times more graffiti than two years earlier. Integrating the city’s call center into CitiStat resolved 1.2 million service requests from citizens; there were 1.5 million calls and not one was lost. By 2003, according to O’Malley’s office, CitiStat had saved $100 million through cost reductions, new revenue streams, and efficiencies such as the competitive outsourcing of security, health clinic, and custodial services.
- City agencies are now practiced and knowledgeable in the art of reporting operational data and connecting that information to their performance in many areas of municipal responsibility. Because heads of agencies have continuous access to real-time performance information, their allocations of resources are faster, better calibrated, and smarter than in the days when most operations were examined only in annual budget reviews.
- Baltimore residents benefit, and not only from the money CitiStat has saved. The numbers that depict the actions of city government are quickly and easily accessible online. CitiStat regularly posts reports on its Web site and sends weekly updates to thousands of e-mail recipients. Through CitiStat’s citizen surveys, residents also get the chance to feed back their judgments on the quality and timeliness of services. In all, the system permits them to become increasingly involved in public decisions, boosting the effectiveness of the city’s government and raising public confidence.
Professor Lenneal Henderson, an experienced observer, has identified some latent problems that CitiStat will have to consider. One is what he calls “the potential myopia of a biweekly accountability system” that “can obstruct longer-range strategic planning.” Another is Baltimore’s extensive reliance on services provided by numerous vendors, nonprofit and educational organizations, and foundations. CitiStat, he says, will be challenged “to work with city agencies to more effectively orchestrate the activities of these networks”— whose work he regards as just as critical as that of city agencies themselves—“with the city’s policy and administrative goals.”
Word of this statistics-driven concept has traveled far, and the approach is being widely adapted. More than a hundred national, state, and local governments and international organizations have sent representatives to Baltimore. CitiStat programs, or essential elements of the Baltimore prototype, are operating in Miami, Pittsburgh, Providence, Syracuse, and St. Louis. In a Serbian city, Indjija, gravediggers reportedly keep better track of the bodies they bury, thanks partly to CitiStat.
Clear effectiveness and appeal are obvious reasons for this extensive replication of the CitiStat system. Others are low startup and annual operating costs: $20,000 to create and equip a briefing room, about $350,000 a year for the first three years of activity. In addition, CitiStat uses only off-the-shelf software. Its technological infrastructure, its managers say, is adaptable and easy to use. They also point to CitiStat’s open sharing of its models, templates, and analytical methods.
In a 2002 speech at Brown University, O’Malley predicted that CitiStat would soon be the way many cities are managed. “With $20,000, off-the-shelf software, and a few good people,” he said, “you can revolutionize city government.” He is clearly proving that prediction.
Henderson, Lenneal J. The Baltimore CitiStat Program: Performance and Accountability. Managing for Results series of the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government, 2003. Professor Henderson is a Senior Fellow at the William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore. Other information herein is also derived from this publication.