Over the holidays, I had the chance to catch up with some back reading and Podcasts and there was one, in particular, that caught my attention. The book / Podcast combo on transforming state governments by Deloitte & Touche provided some really interesting, innovative, no-holds-barred analysis of the problems that state governments are facing in the early 21st century. Recorded the day after the 2006 elections, Deloitte’s Bob Campbell and Bill Eggers collaborate with Deloitte advisor, former governor of Pennsylvania and first secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge to produce an excellent Podcast. The Podcast serves as a solid introduction to the more extensive analysis in their book, States of Transition: Tackling government’s toughest policy and management challenges.

States of Transition Bookcover

The Podcast is available via iTunes or as a download on Deloitte’s Web site. You can also download a decent sized book excerpt here. I have also mirrored the book excerpt as well for the sake of speed and continuity. I’ve highlighted some of the interesting points of the Podcast and book below. I encourage you to listen to the Podcast and pick up the book. My experience with state government leads me to believe that Deloitte’s analysis is spot on. Many of the truths analyzed in the book / Podcast are the veritable elephants in the room of state government. As important as these insights are for public policy and administrative specialists; they are equally important to technologists. As I have told several clients, the business architecture issues of state government such as workforce, political, and organizational constraints must be offset by tradeoffs that will ultimately affect the application and technical architecture solutions that we as technologists are asked to provide. If you are a technologist providing solutions to state governments, it behooves you to understand these business architecture constraints.

Before I go into the highlights of the book / Podcast, I’ll start with a bit of ethically obligatory disclosure. I am a Deloitte employee. That said, I am not writing this blog entry to tout or profit from my employer’s intellectual capital in any way. The materials I am blogging about are, obviously, all publicly available. Furthermore, I am writing about them because I feel that they would be of interest to the majority of this blog’s readers. Enough of the fine print; highlights as well as a matrix excerpted from the book can be found below:

States of Transition Highlights

  • Bob Campbell hits the nail on the head but citing federal entitlement programs as the drivers of siloed state government operations. Makes you wonder if things like the Federal Funding Accounting and Transparency Act are eventually going to have trickle down effects on the states.
  • Focus on states as the “laboratories of democracy” and drivers of innovation. This is especially important since states have the potential to be much more agile than the federal government in addressing policy issues and providing innovative solutions.
  • Coverage of the tough choices needed to fix an ailing Medicaid system. Innovations such as the Vermont Medicaid waiver system are included in the discussion. One fact that I found both interesting and scary (though not surprising) is that, were state Medicaid budgets the basis of independent operating entities, nearly half of the states’ Medicaid programs would be Fortune 500 companies.
  • Detailed analysis of state government workforce issues. There is a lot of information about unfunded liabilities on state retirement and healthcare plans. Governor Ridge went as far as to compare state government with the steel and automotive industries; a comparison I contemplated a lot on my recent trip to Detroit.
  • Critical look at an infrastructure deficits and discussion of the need to increase focus on this area. There are some interesting examples of the public-private partnership model at work. One in particular that came up during the Podcast was the purchase and execution of warranties on roads by New Mexico. For those with further interest in this area, I’d encourage you to listen to the IT Conversations Podcast about transportation networks.

Trying to remain fair and unbiased, there are also several things for which I would have liked to have seen analysis and opinions. It’s understandable these issues didn’t make the cut for a text that is already tackling a lot of huge issues. However, I’d be interested to know where folks stand on these issues:

  • Detailed analysis of the real cost of a state worker (per hour). When you factor in the number of hours worked and the liberal pension and healthcare benefits, what is the actual cost of your hypothetical state worker? I’d be interested to know.
  • Focus on the citizen-centric viewpoint of government. That is, with my cable company, whether I go online, call on the phone, or walk into one of their storefronts, they can ask me a question or two to establish my identity and then pull up all of the information they need to help me without asking me to provide it again. Government, on the other hand, comes across as having a serious case of amnesia when trying to pull off the same act. “Need to file taxes? Tell me your name, your address, your dependents…”, “Need Welfare? Your name, your address, your dependents…”, “Need a license…”
  • Discussion about digital and energy infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure. Not to diminish the value of physical infrastructure, but last time I checked, we didn’t rank too well globally in terms of the pervasiveness of high-speed network connectivity. We also have a serious addiction to dead dinosaur juice. While energy policy tends to be largely a federal thing, states like California are well versed trend setters in this area. If states really are to be the drivers of innovation, what could they do in this area? Check out my post on the Destiny USA project. Seems like New York has mixed emotions about being too much of a trend setter.
  • Realistic view of drawing the best and the brightest to state government work. I’d be interested to know how many states offer tuition reimbursement as part of their employment package. Anyone, anyone?? Also, with the private sector increasing chunking work into projects and matrixing staff across projects, I’d be interested to hear ideas about if and how a hierarchical organization such as state government can be contorted to follow this precedence.
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