In every successful business, there's a leader who recognizes that, like a well running vehicle, you have to keep the hood open all of the time to find new and better ways to increase performance, keep the business tuned up, and be ready to make changes to keep competitive.
Unfortunately, as a general rule, governments don't follow this model. Most governments rarely even open the hood. Many working in government don't see any competition for the services they provide and they don't really look for ways to increase performance and keep costs down until a financial crisis like a recession hits. Governments are often reactionary to citizen concerns.
Fortunately for Tulsa, city leaders haven't rested on their laurels since 2010, when Mayor Dewey Bartlett authorized the creation of the city's Management Review Office to implement the recommendations of a nationally acclaimed KPMG efficiency study.
Typically financial audits are looking to see if employees are taking the money. But these types of audits don't generally weigh in on whether the employees are wasting the money or if a better way of spending the money can be found. That's where the professional staff of the MRO hits the ground running.
If you have noticed lately when city issues in areas like EMSA, the information technology department, fleet management, parking meter management, workers' compensation costs, or the Mayor's Action Line (now the new Customer Care Center/311) are in the news, it's the MRO that is called into action.
Acting like an efficiency SWAT team, the mayor can direct the MRO staff to swarm over every operational detail and produce an action plan for reforms based upon best practices that can produce new sources of non-tax revenue, cut the cost of government, or find better approaches in providing services. For the first time in city government history, citizens now have a team of efficiency experts whose job is to keep the hood open all of the time.
Under the watchful eye of the mayor and a steering committee led by some of Tulsa's most successful business leaders, the MRO has produced a five-year savings and revenue enhancement plan, which projects $27 million of either savings or non-tax revenue from 11 separate projects.
For just fiscal years 2012 and 2013 alone, there are already verified savings of almost $4.5 million. That's over $4 million that can be directed to core government services like public safety without any tax increase. Unlike our federal government, which talks a lot about finding government savings and lowering its costs, the City of Tulsa is actually doing it.
In the past, governmental controversy got bogged down by politics or the government's bureaucracy or both. Grandstanding, posturing, power struggles, excuses ad nauseum, and defensive battles would erupt. Sound bites seemed more important than sound answers.
Often the response in the past was for the mayor at the time to direct the particular department head to get his house in order or create yet another task force or committee or to hire an outside consultant who would expect the department to fix its own shortcomings. But that was an unrealistic expectation when the department head generally had a lot invested in the status quo and wasn't really keen on making changes. "Just wait out the controversy and things will go back to the way they always were" was the typical position.
Not anymore. Today the mayor has the MRO, which he can direct to get to the bottom of any issue and produce a way forward. Contrary to what some may believe, the MRO is not there to find ways to privatize every government service or to outsource every employee's job. Where that is an appropriate option, the MRO can research and recommend this. And there are such opportunities there even though some in government believe if you work for the government you should have a guaranteed job with good benefits for life.
Where does that happen anymore -- a job for life? Certainly not in the private sector or education sector. There are no guaranteed jobs for life. Governments, of all places, are not immune to reforms, restructuring, reduction, and redirection. And this belief has received the overwhelming support of the public employees' bosses -- the citizens who pay the bills.
When financial hard times hit the citizens who front the tab of government costs, they aren't very sympathetic to public employees who complain when government leaders are trying to do more with less and do it better. If the citizens are doing it at home and businesses are doing it in the boardroom, then the government is expected to do the same. And the citizens believe that private innovation coupled with a public mission is the direction we should be headed.
In the latest citizens survey, when Tulsans were asked if the city should explore public-private partnerships in delivering services with parks, the arts, and with our utilities, between 60 and 70 percent were supportive of this approach.
For the MRO, there are always new projects on the horizon to make city services the best they can be. Looking ahead, the MRO may be looking at improving water meter reading, centralizing the real estate and code enforcement functions, and reviewing the permitting and plan review function. In each case, these are places where the citizens of Tulsa interact and interface with their local government. As Mayor Bartlett has said, "We will continue to replace the red tape with red carpet for our citizens."
The MRO is the place where the red tape is cut and the red carpet begins to roll out.
Share this article: