Academic journal article Public Administration Review

A "Smarter, Better, Faster, and Cheaper" Government: Contracting and Geographic Information Systems

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

A "Smarter, Better, Faster, and Cheaper" Government: Contracting and Geographic Information Systems

Article excerpt

With a fervent aspiration to "make government work better and cost less," the Clinton-Gore National Performance Review offers numerous suggestions to push governments to do "everything smarter, better, faster, and cheaper" (Gore, 1993, 66). While the report contains more than 100 specific recommendations, two postulates underlie many of the prescriptions: (1) Governments should seek market, rather than administrative, solutions to facilitate the delivery of services; and (2) they should make increasing use of information system technology to expedite operations. The research reported below evaluates these postulates. Specifically, it examines the degree to which government reliance on the private market for the implementation of one type of advanced information technology--geographic information systems (GIS)--assisted these organizations in realizing the benefits of the technology. Figure 1 provides a definition of the technology.

Figure 1: Geographic Information Systems: Definition

Geographic information systems (GIS) allow governments to capture manage, analyze, and call on land related data to solve complex planning and management problems. GIS allows the visual display of a map of a given jurisdiction on a computer monitor. The map is displayed along with a host of features, such as roads, health clinics, schools, voting districts, or police departments. Each of the map features is associated with data or information. The feature data may take many forms and can be political, social, or statistical in nature. For example, by selecting a feature representing a school, the data pertaining to test scores, student profiles, or financial expenditures are immediately available.

When conditions change, map features can be moved, added, or deleted easily. Additionally, with GIS, operators can shuffle, merge, and combine feature information on demand. A school can be studied from its individual perspective, or several schools can be selected and viewed collectively. The schools could also be examined in terms of the surrounding population, for instance median family income, crime rates, or unemployment levels. By combining a map display with a data manager, GIS becomes a powerful tool for public operations. The capabilities of GIS to integrate and sort data from separate databases on demand provide major benefits to government administrators.

According to the National Performance Review, the implementation of computer technologies should assist government operations substantially. The report endorses technologies such as "electronic mail, video conferencing, geographic information systems, database management, and imaging" to streamline operations and promote the attainment of effectiveness and efficiency (Gore, 1993, 80). The National Performance Review recognizes geographic information systems as an innovative technology with great promise for government operations and calls for the establishment of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure to facilitate the adoption of geographic information systems.

So convinced is the National Performance Review of the beneficial effects of these technologies that public managers are chided for overlooking the strategic role of computers for re-engineering practices, procedures, and programs in their agencies (Gore, 1993, 84). Yet, the literature is replete with examples of failed projects following the adoption of these technologies. Many of the failed projects experienced significant schedule delays or excessive cost growth. In other situations, the technology did not operate as envisioned and failed to meet operational standards or managers' expectations.

In order to surmount such difficulties, some scholars advocate the involvement of external contractors to facilitate implementation of computer technology (Minoli, 1994; Regan and O'Connor, 1994). Organizations often rely on external firms to provide the expertise needed to adopt and utilize innovative technologies. …

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