Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Strategic Planning’ Category

Printing reforms could save Washington state up to $13.6 million per year

by April 25th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a newly-released state performance audit, Washington could save between $5 million and $13.6 million per year by eliminating duplication in printing operations, controlling costs of printing equipment and supplies, using electronic technologies – more often than now – in place of paper printing, and by clearing obstacles that constrain competitive bidding including private firms.

U.S. Report: Seattle Can Model Next Steps Against Trafficking

by April 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: A recently released report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. posits that Seattle and Western Washington partners in the battle against human trafficking would be well-suited to demonstrate new methods of information-sharing and innovative networked surveillance tools to combat the problem, which includes forced prostitution of domestic minors, and forced labor and domestic servitude of foreign nationals in the U.S., often at the behest of organized crime networks. To combat human trafficking, the report details recommendations for a multi-city high-tech West Coast vehicle surveillance network in known street prostitution corridors; a new, secure Web-based human trafficking data portal for law enforcement agencies; better standardization and sharing of information among myriad agencies involved; and better utilization of data from visa applications to identify potential victims of forced labor. It also proposes how to capture for law enforcement the valuable lessons learned by the U.S. intelligence community on the operations and tactics of far-reaching global networks involved in human trafficking, narcotics, weapons and terrorism; and accents the need for more shelter facilities in Seattle and Western Washington specifically for adult women victims of human trafficking.

CBO Director Stresses Rising Public Debt, Taxes, Spending

by March 14th, 2011

SUMMARY: In a public presentation and official blog post last week, U.S. Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf warned of rising U.S. public debt. It hit $9 trillion or 62 percent of Gross Domestic Product at year-end 2010, and is projected by the CBO to rise to at least 77 percent of GDP by 2021, or nearly 100 percent if certain current tax breaks are extended, raising the risk of a national fiscal crisis. Elmendorf stated that the growing public debt, driven by deficit spending, necessitates hard decisions by Congress about federal budget and tax policies – in order to reverse course and stimulate income growth and investment while maximizing the benefits of federal spending. He stressed that eliminating waste and inefficiency will not be enough to get the nation’s fiscal house in order and accented the recommendations of the Presidentially-appointed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, that Congress should cut spending on federal health care programs, defense, agriculture, and military and civil service retirement, while also ending selected federal tax breaks. He recommends Congress aim to settle on the needed fiscal reforms in the near-term – even if they are implemented more gradually – in order to help stabilize the economy.

State Could Save $180 Million Each Two Years In K-12 Employee Health Costs

by February 10th, 2011

SUMMARY: A state performance audit found Washington could save up to $180 million for every two-year budget cycle – enough to pay for 1,000 more teachers and their benefits – if the state implements major organizational reforms in K-12 public school employee health care administration and requires more balanced cost-sharing from K-12 employees.

BACKGROUND: Washington state voters in 2005 passed Initiative 900 which requires the state auditor’s office to conduct or contract out for periodic performance audits, or cost-efficiency and performance assessments of major state, regional or large local government programs. The state auditor’s office hired The Hay Group, experts in assessing health insurance plans and administration, to conduct a review of Washington State’s health benefits program for K-12 public school employees, which is provided through the state’s Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB). The system paid for $1.21 billion in coverage benefits to K-12 employees in the 2009-2010 school year with workers paying 16 percent of that total. Of the remaining costs, the state paid for 64 percent, local district tax levies 12 percent, and the federal government and other sources eight percent.

KEY LINK: “K-12 Employee Health Benefits,” report for Washington State Auditor, issued 2/8/11.


  • The state of Washington provides health care benefits to more than 100,000 K-12 public school employees in 295 different local school districts and nine educational service districts. This is accomplished through the use of more than 1,000 separate benefits funding pools, which pay for more than 200 different health care plans, provided by 10 different insurance companies.
  • The system of 1,000 separate benefits funding pools is overly complicated and cumbersome to administer, and restructuring it could play a large part in helping save the state as much as $90 million annually, or $180 million for each two-year budget cycle in K-12 employee health benefit costs. That’s enough to pay for the salaries and benefits of another 1,000 K-12 public school teachers.
  • Some school districts have as many as 12 different employee health benefits funding pools, each one tied to a different employee collective bargaining unit, and often requiring benefits funding re-allocations several times yearly, which adds to administrative burdens and costs. The Hays Group report recommends a limit of two pools per district, such as one for teachers and another for non-teachers, to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and make premiums more transparent.
  • Part of the savings could be achieved another way, by more balanced cost sharing. Benefit plans for K-12 public school employees in Washington state are on average more generous than typical for other employees. If their benefits were funded at a level no higher than that of the predominant plan used for federal government employees, the state could save $13 million annually.
  • Employee contributions for sole beneficiary coverage are on average lower than typical for other employers (chart); but contributions required for family plans are higher than average (chart).
  • The K-12 public school employee health benefits system in Washington state should be completely re-structured. It should be moved out of PEBB and into a separate self-funding statewide program with its own governing board. Participation could be made mandatory by the legislature, which would achieve greater overall savings, but that approach should be phased in over a period of no less than three years from approval of the reforms.

from K-12 Employee Health Benefits, report for Washington State Auditor, issued 2/8/11

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Rising U.S. Debt Dicey

by August 27th, 2010

In this week’s regular live KOMO-AM 1000 radio segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret government transparency project, I talked with co-anchor Nancy Barrick and guest anchor Bill Rice about some sobering news on U.S. government debt. Here’s the original Ferret write-up and here’s the audio. The transcript follows.

Nancy Barrick: “A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office offers a serious warning to the feds: stop spending all that money. And on the KOMO news line we have Matt Rosenberg of, and Matt, what did this report have to say about our national debt?”

Matt Rosenberg: “We’re highlighting this report called “Federal Debt And The Risk Of A Fiscal Crisis” at our Public Data Ferret government transparency hub, and it says that the U.S. government’s public debt – that’s what’s owed to investors in the financial markets – is now higher than ever, except for in the years right after World War Two. Our U.S. public debt reached $8 trillion, or about 54 percent of projected year-end gross domestic product for 2010, and it’s going to go higher by the end of the year to about 62 percent of GDP, so the prescription is stiff medicine, at least from the Congressional Budget Office. They’re saying we’ve got to cut spending and look at increasing revenues, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how you slice it.”

Bill Rice: “Yeah, and apparently it just gets worse unless something is done now. How bad does the debt get by, say, 2035?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, they’ve got a couple of different scenarios. One is called the ‘extended baseline scenario,’ which sees a continuation of current law and no big changes, and even then, the public debt is going to reach about 80 percent of GDP, considerably higher than now, and that’s thanks to an aging population and increasing health care costs. But if there are changes made, under the ‘alternative fiscal scenario’ that the CBO outlines, it could be much, much worse, and the public debt could reach as much as 180 percent of GDP by 2035. So they’re saying we’ve got to get on it right now and cut spending equal to at least one percent of GDP under the ‘okay’ scenario and up to (five) percent under the ‘recipe for trouble’ scenario.”

Nancy Barrick: “And Matt, the thing I like is you always sift through these sorts of technical reports. As you were looking through this, is this something the general public can get ahold of, or is it pretty technical?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, no, you can make good sense out of it, and at our Public Data Ferret site we link also to some of the sources that we use. Actually that’s in the blogroll section of our blog. So, yeah, you can go right to a lot of these government sites, find recent reports written in plain English, sometimes it takes a little translation, and that’s part of what we’re here for, but you know, if I were to summarize what these guys are saying here, it’s that the federal government has been gorging on public debt like Little Debbie snack cakes, and it’s time for the fresh grapefruit and Meusli, instead.”

Bill Rice: “Matt Rosenberg of For a link to Matt’s Web site, go to and click on “Nine 2 Noon.”

Nancy Barrick: “That was very well put.”

Transportation And Community Well Being

by August 5th, 2010

There’s a growing inclination to assess the state of community well-being. Indices include educational opportunities and quality, volunteerism, local agricultural abundance, water and air quality, Internet access and online communities, and of course, ease of transportation. Or lack thereof. The Puget Sound region loves its transportation dialog. Major bridge, tunnel and highway projects are painfully slow to launch, and finish. Telecommuting and transit are key parts of our regional transportation conversation and our unfortunately piecemeal action plan. Transit advocates take some encouragement from two votes to build (and then build more) light rail, and other initiatives to add express buses with features of so-called “bus rapid transit” in Snohomish and King Counties.

Progress is slow but now perhaps steady on replacing the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 through downtown Seattle with a controversial deep-bore tunnel. However, as reported yesterday in the Seattle Times, money lined up is far short of what’s needed for a crucial safety replacement of the SR 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington between Seattle and jobs-rich Eastside suburbs such as Bellevue and Redmond. I seem to recall this very matter having arisen in some detail last September. Into this whole decision matrix are factored fascinating and important conversations on regional highway corridor tolling (electronically, with price breaks for high-occupancy and perhaps even low carbon-emitting vehicles), plus market penetration of electric vehicles, and more frequent telecommuting – which can only happen if employers learn better to…trust, and verify. We won’t attempt to resolve all this here, just say more and better leadership is crucial. My aim now is to highlight a piece of the transit puzzle that richly connects with our regional heritage on the waters of Puget Sound, and perhaps our future, as well.

King County Must Revise Cost-Of-Living Pay Policy

by July 7th, 2010

By Seattle Times editorial board

Two Metropolitan King County Council members propose new labor policies that would end the county’s long-standing and anachronistic automatic cost-of-living pay increases. The council would be wise to adopt either or a combination of both plans.

County employees have been living in an altered state, pretending the county has enough money to award employees 2 to 6 percent annual cost-of-living increases even if that cost dropped as it did last year. That makes no sense.

Council Chairman Bob Ferguson and Councilmember Kathy Lambert offer different proposals to accomplish similar goals: to change de facto policy that institutionalizes cost-of-living increases. Lambert has been working this issue almost two years and deserves considerable kudos for bringing the matter to the forefront.

Lambert and Ferguson should join forces to combine and refine proposals and rally enough votes to support the new approach. By doing so, the council would send a powerful message to labor that the economic realities of the 21st century require new rules.