Mini-Symposium on Intergovernmental Comparative Performance Data

By Hatry, Harry | Public Administration Review, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Mini-Symposium on Intergovernmental Comparative Performance Data


Hatry, Harry, Public Administration Review


As David Ammons points out in his article, performance measurement has become a major management tool across the country, and in fact, the world. It is bringing a new public administration focus on results-oriented government to United States governments at all three levels--federal (driven by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993), state, and local. How long this will continue is not clear. However, it is common sense that public agencies and their individual service organizations should focus on the results (the outcomes) and efficiency with which they are delivering their services. The key issue is whether data collection on outcomes is sufficiently feasible and does not incur "excessive" cost, particularly as related to the actual benefits and uses made of that information.

In recent years, comparisons across government agencies have become popular. This appears to be an emerging trend. As noted by Kopczynski and Lombardo, major inter-governmental comparison efforts have been made, especially at the local government level.

The United Kingdom's Audit Commission, under national law, assembles, analyzes, and reports publicly on performance data required from municipalities. The German Bertelsmann Foundation has been sponsoring an effort to compare performance in approximately 150 local governments. In the United States, intermunicipality efforts include the state of North Carolina's effort (administered by the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), described by Charles Coe, and that of the Large City/County Comparative Performance Measurement Consortium (administered by the International City/County Management Association) described by Kopczynski and Lombardo. The Innovations Group, until recently, administered comparisons of efficiency and outcome indicators for a number of smaller municipalities.

This ended because of concerns about the amount of effort and difficulty in obtaining comparable data from the jurisdictions. At the state government level, the National Assessment of Educational Progress of the U.S. Department of Education is providing state comparisons of the achievement in science, mathematics, and reading based on standardized tests that it administers to samples of students in the fourth and eighth grades in schools in each state. In Australia, at the state government level, the Commonwealth's Industry Commission has begun publishing comparisons of selected performance measurements of the eight Australian states.

Intercity comparisons have also been popularized through a number of widely disseminated "popular" publications, including various ratings of cities and the work of Barrett and Greene, initially supported by Financial World (1995a; 1995b) and resuming under the co-sponsorship of the University of Syracuse and Governing magazine (for state and local governments). The university with Governing Executive is also comparing selected federal agencies. The Syracuse efforts, however, are comparing the processes used to manage and finance government rather than comparing performance.

Back in the 1970s, the National Commission of Productivity (and its various reincarnations) supported a number of comparative performance efforts. These did not go very far. Most of the efforts focused on comparing outputs and efficiency rather than outcomes--and without the support of the governments themselves.

The efforts identified above are probably only the tip of the iceberg, since a number of other organizations have from time to time undertaken such comparisons. In addition, individual local government agencies sometimes call other governments to obtain comparative data. And finally, the media sometimes seek and report on information comparing the results in their own communities to those elsewhere.

Contents of This Symposium

David Ammons in the first article provides the basic context and rationale for inter-governmental comparisons. …

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