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The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Policy and Productivity Methods for American Local Governments.

Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., 1989. (290 pp)

Reviewed by Paul Zorn, consultant, Government Finance Research Center, Government Finance Officers Association, Washington, DC.

During the past decade, state and local governments have been forced to do more with less, as shrinking federal aid and voter disapproval of tax increases have severely limited governmental resources. During the same period, state and local governments have been given more responsibility for meeting the growing demand for public services, including education, public assistance and safety.

The challenge of doing more with less has nurtured a movement to improve the productivity of state and local governments. Out of this movement has come a wide variety of techniques with an even wider variety of names. The resulting complexity makes it difficult to understand or evaluate the methods proposed to improve productivity. The Hidden Wealth of Cities presents a concise and readable introduction to many of the techniques public officials might use to mine the productivity treasures buried within their management methods and labor force.

The first three chapters provide background into the history of federal grants-in-aid and discuss the problems arising from their growth during the third quarter of the century and their decline over the past decade.

The second part of the book presents descriptions of specific techniques for improving governmental productivity, including program ranking, alternative budgeting, contracting public services to private vendors, value analysis, target based budgeting and work measurement. In addition, one chapter in this section describes the development of a comprehensive productivity program that incorporates the concept of productivity "investment" into financial performance management.

The third part discusses the general steps that public officials might take toward the development of a "self-financed" city, i.e., a city that relies mostly on its own economic resources to provide local services. These steps generally involve 1) the development of an "entrepreneurial" city management and 2) managers who actively look for opportunities to cut costs, uncover new sources of revenue and encourage greater private-sector economic development.

The final chapter discusses the development of a local productivity policy, by means of which public officials can formalize the goals and procedures and instill "productivity consciousness" throughout the workforce.

Overall, the book offers a great deal of useful information and many ideas to spark the reader's thought. The chapter that discusses a comprehensive productivity program, involving both short-term improvements to governmental operations and strategic planning for increasing long-term productivity, offers a well-reasoned discussion of productivity programs in relation to the financial and managerial characteristics of local government. In addition, the book's numerous appendices provide extensive listings of research and trade associations and specialized consultants who offer additional information on improving productivity.

Public officials who turn to this book for detailed descriptions of specific productivity measures, however, will be disappointed. Although the book generally describes how such measures might be established, it does not talk about the measures themselves. This is an unfortunate omission, since in order to properly monitor the productivity of labor one must use the proper measures. Using the wrong measures, at best, is a waste of time and, at worst, will steer governmental efforts in the wrong direction.

The Hidden Wealth of Cities is available for $43.95 (prepaid), plus $3.50 shipping and handling, from JAI Press, Inc., 55 Old Post Road #2, Greenwich, CT 06836-1678 (203/661-7602).
COPYRIGHT 1993 Government Finance Officers Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Zorn, Paul
Publication:Government Finance Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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