Institute Citizens' Budget Reports: Improving Performance and Accountability in Government

Geoffrey F. Segal, Adam B. Summers
Civic leaders bemoan the lack of attention or engagement citizens display toward municipal governance. Citizens remain unenergetic and removed from the level of government closest to them, often because they lack the simple knowledge of what government services have been provided and in what quantities, and are unable to determine such information from government documents. Even today, most citizens would be hard pressed to determine how their tax dollars are being spent, and whether or not they are spent wisely. Most municipal documents serve internal purposes and do little to educate or assist the citizen. It is no surprise then, that citizens have little trust or confidence in how governments spend their money. To improve the relationship between the governed and the governing, governments need to focus on better performance, more efficient government, and an informed citizenry. Citizens want to know how effectively and efficiently their city delivers services. To properly serve their citizens, governments need to make data available so that policymakers and citizens fully understand the array of results that can be accomplished through different levels of spending. Citizens want to know what resources it takes to pick up the trash, fix the streets, and provide fire protection. They want to know how their city stacks up against neighboring or similarly situated cities. Do some cities use more or fewer resources than others? Are there other management options that officials can use, like privatization or public-private partnerships? Constrained budgets are forcing many governments to become more interested in improving productivity and answering these questions.
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