Guidance from the Top


Guidance from the Top

Thursday, June 24th, 2010 - 5:42
Thursday, June 17, 2010 - 15:40
Watch Washington's Gov. Gregoire in action at a new accountability forum on the Recovery Act

In the twenty years that we’ve been writing about government management, we’ve noted on many occasions how important it is that governors and mayors support performance management efforts with strong leadership backing. If leaders don’t pay attention to measurement data, asking probing questions, demanding action, and following up to see that results are achieved, all the effort involved can be for naught.

A few months ago, we focused on the Washington government accountability forums, providing a video to our readers that showed Gov. Christine Gregoire and her leadership team probing a variety of issues surrounding Recovery Act programs. The Director of Commerce Rogers Weed was on the hot seat at the time because of the small number of units that had been weatherized back in November. Recently, we noted with interest that Washington and Idaho were the only two states that had completed at least 30 percent of their weatherizations by the end of March, according to the Department of Energy. We’re not saying there’s necessarily cause and effect here – we can’t prove that – but we’ll bet a week’s pay that concentrated gubernatorial attention helped get the job done.

On June 16th, Washington once again focused on the Recovery Act in one of its forums. We were riveted by the film footage of that session. So, for our readers, we give you two options. The first is for those of you who either have great interest in this topic – or have lots of time: You can watch the entire video (a little over an hour), and get a great sense of the way the process works, and the questions that were raised.

But since we anticipate that few of your have an hour to spare, we’ve culled through the video to find some of the high points, which we’ve annotated so you can fast forward, using the time codes below, to the segments of most interest (apologies if a few of them are a second or two off).

2:14 – Deputy Chief of Staff Jill Satran gives an overview of where the state is with its Recovery Act spending, explaining that this forum deals with smaller programs – representing only about 4 percent of the $2.3 billion coming in to state agencies.

7:21 – Secretary of Health Mary Selecky notes that all 21 of the state’s Recovery Act drinking water projects are under construction and a bit later (8:46) says that 18 of the 21 are in “distressed communities” and that $38.5 million of Recovery Act money leverages a great deal more money (9:06)

9:36 – Gov. Gregoire questions why there aren’t more jobs associated with the drinking water projects, if they’ve all begun construction. Selecky explains that the small number of jobs reflected so far is due to most projects being in a pre-construction phase and that the job count will go up as construction season gets underway.

12:10 – Gov. Gregoire raises, for the first of several times, the issue of construction costs coming in under bid. If it’s happening in transportation, she wonders, why isn’t it happening with water projects? Her concern: that if projects aren’t closely monitored, they’ll just add “bells and whistles” to enhance original plans and use up money that they don’t need to match the original budgeted amount.

19:01 – The Governor provides a “shout out” to the clean water infrastructure projects, which received a clean bill of health from the auditor and are being cited as a national model; this provides a nice demonstration that these forums can be used to praise as well as question.

29:10 – The Governor’s Chief of Staff Jay Manning brings up the idea of taking all the Recovery Act projects that impact Puget Sound (about half of the state total) and seeing “What did the Recovery Act do for Puget Sound?”

30:02 – A discussion of Recovery Act dollars that all states received to improve immunization rates and of several competitive grants that Washington was awarded “so what we learn will help the rest of the nation,” says Secretary of Health Selecky.

38:26 – Lead Hazard Remediation, funded with $3 million of Recovery Act dollars. Gov. Gregoire wonders why landlords don’t bear more responsibility for the cost of getting rid of lead in homes. “’ll ask you to be careful about this because I think you’re enhancing the value for resale purposes at the expense of the taxpayers. I think we need to be very careful and think this through. Is this the right course of action for us to take? Is there some way the landlord could repay us?

51:00 – After a discussion of Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (starting about 46:17), the Governor emphasizes the importance of cost recovery. “Are there ones you’re cleaning up now for which you go back against the landlord or landowner and get money back?” Director of Ecology Ted Sturdevant assures the governor that “We cost recover in every case that we can – even with these Recovery Act sites.” (The state received about $3.4 million in Recovery Act dollars for the underground cleanup.)

54:42 -- This doesn’t have much to do with the Recovery Act, but we recommend a funny story that the governor tells about her own first days as director of ecology and her first experience with Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.