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What the Data Didn’t Show

Martin O’Malley’s vaunted management techniques missed the massive corruption in the Baltimore jail.

Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By KATE HAVARD
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Harvard professor Robert Behn, who writes about the “Performance Stat” style of governing, says that although StateStat is well equipped to tackle things like staff corruption, “Measuring corruption is not a role for performance stat until the leaders decide to focus on it, or until someone brings it to their attention.” If an agency’s struggling to tackle a problem, there’s no incentive to point it out in StateStat meetings. When agencies don’t tell StateStat what it wants to hear, the agency heads face inquisition-style grillings by the governor’s staff—or by the governor himself.

It’s part of why state employees often refer to the governor by his initials—MO’M. With StateStat, the executive branch plays a heavy-handed role in even the nitty-grittiest of agency operations. It’s an approach that O’Malley says he’d like to see taken to the next level.

“I think the truth is we need FedStat,” O’Malley told Washington Monthly. “At a time when people are so very cynical about what our public institutions are capable of delivering .  .  . the willingness of leaders to make themselves vulnerable by declaring goals could well restore that essential trust that we need in order to bring forth a new era of progress.”

After this soliloquy, O’Malley “stopped, nodding at the cadence of his own thoughts.” He was enchanted, it seems, by the prospect of turning the nanny state into the MO’Mmy state. Like the president he hopes to succeed, O’Malley believes technology can not only cure the public’s distrust of government, but also curb man’s natural tendency toward corruption. He is merely the latest liberal to think that the newest innovations in social science can flatten out human nature, making governing easy, clean, and just.

Instead, O’Malley has created a new buffer for bureaucracy, which nurtures not “a new era of progress,” but the oldest kind of corruption—vividly on display in Maryland’s jails. This is a big blow for StateStat, and for O’Malley. When you look at the data, neither one measures up.

Kate Havard is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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