Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith is probably best known for reengineering the city's delivery or services to the public. A major success has been the privatization of many of Indianapolis' services. Goldsmith has also worked to strengthen the role of neighborhoods in determining priorities and problem solving.
A Republican elected in 1991, Goldsmith has direct e-mail connections with many city employees. This has increased the velocity of information, made the mayor more accessible, and helped flatten the city management hierarchy.
Following is an interview conducted by GT Features Editor Brian Miller.
GT: When you came into office in 1992, what was your overall vision or plan for the city?
Goldsmith: I wanted improve opportunity for all of our citizens by restoring neighborhoods and making our city competitive and safe. Essentially, the goal was to create economic opportunities for everyone, including those who are poor, and to dramatically restore our older neighborhoods while also making government smaller and more efficient.
GT: When you assumed office, were you thinking along the lines of privatization and reducing direct service delivery by the city government?
Goldsmith: I teach a little bit of public management and had been reading about those issues for some time. I was committed to essentially reducing the role of the public sector and enhancing the participation of the private sector.
So much of our rhetoric revolved around value added terms. So when we spend a tax dollar, how are we sure that we are getting a dollar in value on that purchase? I ran on that platform.
Essentially we did that through privatization, although we now call it competition because we are allowing our employees to compete. We have driven down the operating cost of government by about $125 million, reduced the non-public safety public employee force by 30 percent and transferred the savings into infrastructure. We're doing a $500 million building better neighborhoods program with no new property taxes from the savings produced through competition.
GT: What initiatives are you most proud of? What do you think is the most significant accomplishment thus far?
Goldsmith: I think you need to look at results, and in the time we've been doing this, public employment has been reduced. Infrastructure investment has risen about 400 percent to over $500 million. The city's unemployment rate has dropped from 5.9 percent to 3.8 percent, which is about the lowest in the top 30 cities in the country.
The older urban neighborhoods have begun to be restored for the first time since World War II. So essentially the results, in terms of employment, housing - the way one might measure the quality of life - are all much better.
It's not really a measure of value to say we put 100 more police officers on the street - which we have - or talk about the number of houses or parks. What we need to do is talk about how neighborhoods in general have been revitalized and how people have access to wealth, meaning access to jobs as a measure of value.
GT: Can you explain your thoughts on what functions need to be done by government and should not be privatized. And second, what items should be privatized?
Goldsmith: Actually, those are very separate questions. The first question is what businesses should the government be in at all, what services should the government provide. In other words, what are public goods? And the second question is even if these do need to be provided, do they need to be produced by government or produced by the private sector?
For example, regarding the first question, should the city be in the golf business? I think you could argue that perhaps not. However, most cities have public golf courses. So once you conclude that you do have golf courses, is there a need for city employees on those golf course or can there be private employees?
I have a small-government view. But as a practical matter, for everything except public safety, we're going to do activity-based costing by figuring out how much it costs us to do a year of service and then bid that out. I think with very few exceptions, virtually every aspect of government can fall in that category.
We've done 60 [outsources] so far, some little, some big. We've done little ones like printing microfilm. And by the time this interview is printed, we will have done probably the largest airport privatization in the country.
GT: What role does information technology play in Indianapolis' outsourcing?
Goldsmith: Let me back up for just a second into technology and then link them if I can. I was a district attorney for 11 years. We took our criminal justice system into what was reported to be the most sophisticated IT in the country. It used an integrated database of fourth generation languages when they were just coming out as a way to produce information from which government could run more efficiently. With the system, I collected child support and took our collections from $900,000 a year to $38 million a year - all through the application of information technology. This was very sophisticated for government procedures - from handling cases, to intercepting checks, to preparing court documents, and responding to the citizens.
I had, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, developed the first office in the country where every prosecutor had a computer on their desk. And remember, this was 10 years ago.
So I approached these competitive efforts as mayor understanding that technology, in many ways, was the edge in which productivity and efficiency could occur.
Now, there are a range of these issues, and some are informational. I have 4,000 electronic pen pals. Every police officer, every solid waste worker, every middle manager, can access me 24 hours a day through traditional e-mail.
Yet, e-mail wasn't really traditional when it started here. It was a bit unique for government and that is the source of new ideas.
The problem with reinventing business - and I'm an advocate of it- is that reinvention means outsourcing a service which shouldn't be done the way it's being done. And often, we fail to recognize how technology can enhance that service as either part of the bid or before. For example, hand-held computers change the way you process parking meters. Also, that can that be linked to the collection process. So we have tried to reengineer around technology both as a result of the competition and before the competition.
Technology has spread to e-mail and database mapping, to police officers on the road and wastewater treatment plants, and even to the outsourcing of a data center which is now up for bid. All of the real savings and quantity increases come from technology.
GT: How much reinvention can be done without information technology?
Goldsmith: You can do some things but you would only affect the margins. The big savings comes from better handling of information and better use of technology. Having the private sector do something the way the public sector does provides only marginal savings without the use of technology.
GT: What role can IT play in reinventing city services that are not outsourced? Can you give me some examples from Indianapolis?
Goldsmith: The whole predicate of our approach is through the use of technology. If building permits issuance is inefficient, the way to make them efficient is to digitize the map, database the information, consolidate the workers around electronic procedures and condense the amount of time so you can do parallel and simultaneous processing, rather than doing it sequentially.
The way to fill potholes and fix curbs more constructively is to have every phone message be electronically logged at the time it's made, electronically transferred to the service workers, and sent out to the field, have the report filed back and tracked, without any pieces of paper. The process can be reduced from four months to four hours.
Every single area has an example like that. The most interesting and exciting one is that information is considered by government as a means of producing another service like the example I just gave you. But really, information should be a product of government.
We have this creative joint venture with Ameritech which I call Civic Link. We are trying to develop electronic access to all of our information. Instead of having to go to City Hall, everybody's home and business becomes their own little town hall, where they dial into real estate records, lawyers dial into court records, and people who want documents can do it from their home computer. As we collect information we can use it to produce services or we can provide the information as a service.
GT: Let's talk about your personal use of technology. You mentioned an e-mail system that connects many of your employees to your office. Can you explain how you use it? How has it changed the way a mayor's office works?
Goldsmith: In a lot of ways, virtually all of our reporting now is electronic - typical search of spreadsheets, tracking of crimes in electronic databases - all of those things that you would expect from a typical management viewpoint.
We have just finished placing laptops in virtually all our police cars. Although we're not the first to do that, it's still dramatically advanced.
But I don't think there's anything that has increased my productivity as the incessant use of e-mail. The fact that any employee in city government can get to me without going through the middle managers dramatically increased the flow of information to me. Through e-mail, during any meeting I can either meet a reporter or ask somebody to take care of a problem without having to fill out a piece of paper and have it circulated.
We can track all the problems and correspondence and then check on their state in the system. Essentially, it has increased the velocity of information, removed a lot of the middle people who often slow down information, and dramatically enhanced the access of people to me.
GT: How do you handle the potential of having too much information? Do you have too many e-mail messages for the amount of time you have to respond?
Goldsmith: One advantage is e-mail increases the time I have to respond to 18-19 hours a day, rather than just eight hours. I can answer my questions at 11 at night or five in the morning. Plus, the ability to talk on the telephone or carry on a meeting and take care of the message at the same time dramatically increases your time. I'm almost between multiple e-mail systems including our office ones and the Internet. I'm about saturated and probably answering about 400 messages a day. That's about all I can take.
But that is my job - to take a request or question and match it with the person who can produce it. Doing that electronically dramatically increases efficiency and speed.
GT: Where or how did you learn about technology? Was it from when you were the D.A. helping to automate the D.A's office?
Goldsmith: That and the child support experience really were the key components. Through tape matching and access to databases we were able to track down absent dads to cease their assets and give them to the moms. Computers generated ways, I think, and changed the landscape for child support enforcement. Also, it was invaluable in educating me about the power of these systems.
GT: So when you became mayor, did you understand these things or the concepts you related earlier about how technology will enable changes in running a city government?
Goldsmith: Yes, I think so. Although, I think that the problem we have, in government generally, is that every city buys lots of gadgets. Most big cities have all sorts of computer tools. What we don't do very well is have persons whose job it is to find applied technologies because that requires a combination of understanding information tools and work processes.
How do you use technology to change the workplace itself? We're fortunate to have had some retired company information executives help us figure out our system and basically determine how all the archaic approaches to purchasing, inventory, human resources can be gathered.
As mayor, I think we often miss an opportunity to improve productivity through more applied uses of technology. It's typical of what we've read in the past. People computerize archaic systems and then think they're sophisticated when they ought to use the computerization and the computer implementation as an opportunity to reengineer the whole process. I'm still extremely frustrated that our police courts are not paperless since it would be very easy to do. I couldn't believe our zoning maps weren't digitized. Obviously, somebody has to concentrate on improving productivity as a result of technology.