Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin will present a status update Sept. 13 to the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), the local government watchdog group, on the Landrieu administration's ongoing efforts to reform city government operations. Kopplin is expected to measure the city's progress against a report produced last year by the Public Strategies Group (PSG).
Last year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office reached out to Minnesota-based PSG to produce a series of recommendations for streamlining city government operations. As PSG put it in its final report, City of New Orleans: A Transformational Plan for City Government, released in March, the goal was to "conduct a diagnostic assessment of the city organization to identify opportunities for transformational change that will increase the organization's effectiveness, efficiency, adaptability, and capacity to innovate."
PSG consultants studied city budgets and policies and conducted interviews with more than 60 people in New Orleans — including politicians, citizens and city workers. The group was led by the company's senior partner David Osborne. Osborne — who last year authored a study on California's troubled budget for the libertarian-leaning think tank the Reason Foundation — is something of a government efficiency guru for the post-Reagan era, when politically salable government reform means less regulation, smaller public payrolls and, often, increased private competition for work that has traditionally been performed by the public sector.
Osborne's assessment, as reported in March in The Times-Picayune: "I was kind of shocked ... I think [the Landrieu administration] inherited the least competent city government I'd ever seen in this country and the most corrupt — a really tough experience. I just haven't run into this level of dysfunction before, and I've been doing this work for almost 25 years."
The report called for a multi-year, two-phase set of strategies for the city. They include civil service reform — a management-friendly type of reform centered around lifting or easing rules for hiring and firing employees; transparency and accountability improvements — making public data more readily available, in many cases through the city's new data-and-meeting driven "Stat" programs (all under the umbrella program PerformanceStat) like the already enacted BlightStat; and fewer regulations in the procurement process.
"We thought this was a very important report," says BGR president and CEO Janet Howard. "And we haven't really heard too much about it lately." Howard tells Gambit she hopes to hear from Kopplin on parts of the PSG report she said the city has yet to address, particularly the civil service recommendations.
Asked about the city's overall status in meeting the goals in the plan, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni wrote in an email that the administration had "divided into internal working groups to begin work on each overall issue [identified in PSG's ten-point first phase of the plan]. ...We also have a group working on internal communications. Generally, we're making progress on most of these fronts."
Landrieu previously worked with PSG in 2005 as the state's lieutenant governor. He and then-state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (DCRT) Angele Davis commissioned the group to reform that department's budgeting process. In 2007, Mayor Ray Nagin's administration awarded a $1.1 million city contract to Philadelphia-based municipal advisory firm Public Financial Management (PFM) to develop a five-year fiscal strategy for the city. City contract records show that PFM brought PSG in as a subcontractor for that work.
This year's transformation plan, however, was not funded publicly, according to the Landrieu administration. "Their work was paid for by a number of community partners including the Business Council, Baptist Community Ministries, RosaMary Foundation, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, and Loyola and Tulane universities," Berni wrote in an email to Gambit. "It was not a contract with the City." — Charles Maldonado