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Grading the D.C. Scorecard


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Document date: January 22, 2001
Released online: January 22, 2001
The Washington Times

Elaine Morley and Mary Kopczynski, of the Urban Institute, are nationally respected experts on performance management.

The Williams administration's Year 2000 Scorecard pushes Washington in the right direction—toward greater government accountability and better city services. For this, the mayor and his team deserve praise and support. But, as the mayor himself noted, there is room to build on this first step.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Year 2000 Scorecard is its emphasis on what city agencies do, rather than how residents fare as a result. The current Scorecard has too many short-term or one-shot goals, such as replacing the lions on the Taft bridge ("met") or opening new recreation facilities ("incomplete"). It has too few goals related to service outcomes and quality—such as response time goals for 911 calls ("not met"), or wait times for DMV transactions ("exceeded"). For most city services, outcomes (reducing violent crime or keeping the streets clean) should take precedence over process (putting 200 more police officers on the street or buying new garbage trucks).

Short-term goals or residents' desires for new facilities, better programs, and infrastructure maintenance are important. But routinely gathering and sharing information about the quality and outcomes of everyday services—a cornerstone of accountability—is even more important to the city's long-term health.

Reporting indicators of service outcomes and quality at least annually would focus Scorecard efforts more on customers and results. Four changes to the District's Scorecard would move next year's edition in this direction.

First, put more emphasis on what happens after a service is provided. What an agency does—such as opening a new facility or program, creating additional slots in existing programs, or adding more personnel—is not the bottom line. How citizens are affected is. How many people use the new facilities or programs, or learn new things from workshops and forums? How many are satisfied with services or facilities? How long did people placed in jobs after a job training program keep those jobs? What is the crime rate, now that more police are on the street? How safe do residents feel walking in their neighborhood? These are the questions to answer.

Second, involve more residents in rating services. The administration deserves credit for enlisting residents to help rate Washington's cleanliness, test customer services and telephone etiquette, and survey service recipients. But these volunteer ratings can be improved and expanded. Citizens could monitor the condition of sidewalks and pavement, parks and recreation facilities, street lights, traffic signs, housing, and more, as New York City has done. (Training and use of such tools as photographs of clean and not-so-clean streets help standardize ratings and promote consistency.) Also, more surveys of residents and service recipients would yield invaluable feedback about service use and user satisfaction. Periodic surveys would also help city workers track how citizens fare after receipt of a service so they would know, for instance, what percentage of job program participants are still employed one year later.

Third, report indicators for each ward and neighborhood. This way, agency managers could better pinpoint trouble spots and look to high performing areas for successful practices that can be adopted in other neighborhoods. This move also would let residents see how services and related outcomes in their neighborhood stack up against those in others and would promote the accountability of both city officials and residents. After all, it takes action at both the neighborhood and city levels to reduce crime, for instance, and to keep streets, clean. City employees can't do it alone.

Fourth, compare indicators with those of other jurisdictions. An International City/County Management Association consortium of more than 120 cities and counties already collects and reports data on key indicators annually. By joining this forward-looking group, the District's managers can get a better idea of where the District's performance is subpar and find out about practices that give high-performing jurisdictions their edge.

The DC Scorecard can help Washington improve services and accountability. By holding Citizen Summits in the past, Mayor Williams has already acknowledged the need for joint ownership of the project and a shared stake in the results. Now the challenge is getting residents and city employees to embrace the Scorecard as a vehicle of change—not just the public relations tool its critics are now calling it. Washington still needs closer monitoring of city services by both the administration and residents to monitor and report outcomes of city services, more dialogue between residents and their government, and more attention by residents and city officials to get results.

Topics/Tags: | Governing | Washington D.C. Region

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