Battling the government budget crisis with analytics

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What can the U.S. government learn from state & local analytics efforts to combat the budget crisis? [Image by Flickr user kenteegardin]

The State of Illinois faces an unprecedented budget crisis, with more than $15 billion in unpaid bills. While experts will argue over the exact causes of states' financial struggles, many are pointing to the problem of state leaders avoiding long-term budgetary problems for short-term fixes.

Illinois is not alone in its budget woes. New Jersey’s government recently shut down, resulting in Gov. Chris Christie’s now infamous decision to close the state’s beaches on July 4 weekend. Meanwhile, some Oklahoma school districts have reduced the school week to only four days in an effort to save costs.

These stories have become more common in the last decade since the 2008 financial crisis. It's a problem that we look at in our new book, “A Practical Guide to Analytics for Governments: Using Big Data for Good,” which shows the power analytics can have in helping state and local governments improve citizen lives.

A state-level budget crisis is frequently accompanied by financial struggles at local levels. In a chapter written by Jennifer Robinson, a town councilwoman for nearly 20 years, she writes about her days educating city and county leaders on the wide-ranging opportunities to be more efficient and serve their citizens more effectively with analytics.

“She believes the primary goal of Smart Cities should be to improve quality of life, and analytics is the foundation for those efforts,” wrote Paula Henderson, Vice President for State and Local at SAS, in the book’s foreword. “Her chapter is full of compelling and informative local government case studies.”

These case studies are not only valuable for those in state and local government, but for those in the federal government as well. The Trump administration has made a concerted effort to reduce government spending and civilian agencies will likely be facing smaller budgets and smaller work forces in the near future.

To combat a budget crisis of their own, and to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent better, federal agencies must make better use of advanced analytics. No matter their level, government agencies have a difficult task. They must provide critical services with tight budgets all while under the eye of taxpayers and government oversight bodies.

Our book was created to show the power analytics can have, not just in improving government operations, but how those improvements have a positive, real-life impact. Government can be incredibly powerful. The services they provide help citizens in real, tangible ways. This book tells stories of the government officials who used analytics to help and improve their communities, even under the yoke of a budget crisis.

While the stories are set in state and local markets, federal agencies can take away important lessons.

“I lead a team of nearly 230 people whose mission is to help government, help people. It’s our calling,” Henderson wrote. “Practically, we do that with software but, on a deeper level, we do it with passion, optimism and a belief that analytics wielded by dedicated public servants is a force for good.”

So, while there will continue to be stories of governments struggling, this book focuses on the positives and offers up solutions that can help.

 

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About Author

Marie Lowman

Principal Industry Consultant for Government, SAS

Marie Lowman has been making government more efficient with analytics for the better part of two decades, settling on, and never getting over, the fact that if we can do better, then we must do better. Throughout her career Marie has not only spoken, written, and thought extensively about governments doing better for their constituents, but she is also practicing it. As a three-term elected councilmember, and an appointed planning and zoning commissioner for more than five years, Marie practices what she preaches. She's seen firsthand how important government decisions are made and holds firm the belief that decisions impacting the community shouldn't be made on gut-feel alone. Useful, valuable data surrounds us and should be leveraged in our elected officials' decision making process.

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