Baltimore Mayor-Turned-Governor Expands GIS Throughout Maryland
What makes a good politician? Sometimes it is good
personal skills, sometimes it is good leadership, and sometimes it is a
clear vision. Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland, has all of those -
and he also has an understanding of how and where technology can
support a political agenda. In this interview with Editor-in-Chief Joe
Francica, O'Malley explained his vision as well as the technical,
cultural and budgetary challenges he faced while mayor of Baltimore and
how he brought his success at the city level to the governor's office.
Martin O'Malley began his term as the mayor of Baltimore facing some
daunting challenges that would paralyze most newly elected officials.
He inherited a 16,000-person government in a city that had suffered the
greatest drop in population the country had seen in 30 years. At the
time, there was very little information from city government operations
that was being measured in a real-time manner. "Information wasn't
reaching the policymakers, making it impossible to steer the ship,"
said O'Malley. This left a legacy of underperforming schools and
businesses. So he decided to institute a program similar to one in New
York City that relied on performance measurements. O'Malley copied the
program used by the New York Police Department (NYPD), which supported
the work of police officers in crime-prone areas. That led to the
development of a program he called CITYSTAT,
which provided timely and accurate information to be shared by all.
"Those of us in the public sector are good at measuring input (costs,
etc.) but not as good at measuring output," O'Malley commented. His
objective: make Baltimore a safer, better place to grow up.
In 2007, O'Malley brought this vision to the Maryland statehouse as
governor and began a similar program, called STATESTAT [Corrected from STATSTAT to STATESTAT, per comment. -Ed.]. He and his team
are developing a single statewide base map, 400 years after John Smith
drew the first map of the Chesapeake Bay. He's using the statewide map
to better assess and analyze the state's potential for smart, sustained
Over the last three decades, the population in Maryland has grown by
30%, but land development has increased by 100%. "If we do not grow
with smarter systems, we will decimate our land; it's simply not
sustainable," said O'Malley. Population growth is expected to exceed
one million people over the next several years as a result of the Armed
Forces Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative. Maps are being
used to develop BRAC zones, areas where growth may be sustainable as
the 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs are absorbed in the next few years.
Preparations for those relocating to the state need to be guided by a
vision for smart growth, clustering development around existing
infrastructure and thereby reducing the overall carbon footprint of the
Joe Francica sat down with Governor O'Malley to discuss his vision for
using GIS in a variety of government programs, and how the technology
helps him govern.
Joe Francica (JF): How did you come to use GIS as mayor of Baltimore?
Martin O'Malley (MO): I had never run anything larger than my own
law office. I was all by myself; I didn't even have my own secretary.
When I was elected to be mayor of Baltimore, I had a two-billion-dollar
a year, sixty-thousand-person organization that was confronting some
really serious challenges of public health, drug addiction, public
safety, and one of the worst violent crime rates in the nation, if not
the worst. And after 30 years of population loss, people voted by their
feet. We had zero revenues to do anything about it and we had city
government that was demoralized, defeatist, understaffed and
under-appreciated, and had become excuse-ridden. In order to bust out
of that, I had the help of two great Jacks. One was Jack Maple, the man
behind COMSTAT in New York City and the NYPD under commissioner
Bratton's leadership; and the other was Jack Dangermond, with his
simple, off-the-shelf software that allowed you to take complex,
disjointed organizations and get them to coordinate and map all of the
important functions that they perform. So, that's my short and long
answer to the question it's one thing to do it in a police department,
it's another to do it across every city department and agency.
JF: Were you able to govern and manage with this technology? Was it
more your vision to push it down or was someone pushing up saying,
"Hey, we need to use this technology on a daily basis and here's the
information it can provide."
MO: Fortunately we have a strong mayor form of government, so it's
not as if every member of the council gets a year as mayor but that had
to be paired with a total, unrelenting executive commitment in order to
create that sort of cultural change. There were good people in every
department. Jack Maple has this wonderful theory of human progress and
activity. He said that basically 10% of the people are your
hard-working leaders, 10% of your people are slackers, and 80% will
lean back toward the slacker or lean forward toward progress depending
on whether they recognize this. So with the performance measuring and
mapping of the GIS we were able to do a much better job, and a more
regular job, of acknowledging, thanking, praising and empowering that
leadership class in order to create a performance-based meritocracy.
Now by the time we left, I can't say honestly that that permeated
throughout the whole hierarchy of government. But I can say that within
a year after we started, we were meeting every two weeks with 14
departments coming in one every 14 days. In the intervening week, they
were running their own stats, by the end of our first year, and running
the same process with the mapping [system] internally within their
organizations before meeting face-to-face with my command staff.
JF: So what was the greater challenge? Was it a cultural challenge
or a technical challenge? Perhaps a budgetary challenge?
MO: It was both. It was a cultural challenge and a technical
challenge It actually wasn't that much money. We had a budget
challenge; we had tremendous budget challenges. We actually had a
federal government with a leader who believed our government should
work. So we were able to get an additional 200 cops. We had a program
to demolish our high-rise public housing that was choking the city and
choking the families within them. We had a federal government that
would help. We requisitioned staff from other places. We found we
already had a phenomenal platform to begin building our GIS at the
department of public works. The technical stuff, at first, happened
much more quickly than the cultural change. By the end, both were
progressing on their individual tracks. And every time visitors would
come from all over the world to see our CITYSTAT room sometimes they'd
look at the maps and leave discouraged because they felt there was no
way they could get to that point. But, you know, we didn't get to that
week's iteration of the map and those layers in the first week and we
didn't get to it in the second week, but every week we worked on it the
growth became incremental and steady, and so did the culture change.
JF: And now what about at the state level? Are you able to introduce
those same things?
MO: We're doing it at the state level, as well. We've created a
statewide base map. It is creating platforms and sometimes creating,
for the first time, trust between state and local government;
especially tricky where land issues and land consumption coincide.
JF: Do you feel that you can manage and govern from a geographical
perspective? And do policymakers understand that so much information is
tied to geography?
MO: Yeah, it's everything accountability is a scary thing. Once
you declare a goal, you are pretty much exposed. You're exposed if you
succeed and you're exposed if you fail That fear of the embarrassment
of not succeeding is something that often times discourages managers,
borough heads, department heads, and elected officials from embracing
the openness, the transparency and accountability that comes with this.
This is why the various governments that have come to see our CITYSTAT,
now STATESTAT, at work the newly elected officials tend to embrace it
more readily than those who have already been in [office] for a number
of years because it means exposing the ward's shortcomings. So,
conversely in Baltimore, especially at that time that I was fortunate
enough to be given the trust of governing, there was a certain respect
and - pardon for using the word in public service, "inspiration" - that
comes about when you put your political neck on the line and say to the
people you are leading that we are going to cut violent crime in half.
You make a commitment like that, and they know it's not something you
do lightly and they know there is tremendous political peril if you
fail. So, the downside of declaring goals and measuring performance and
doing it like that is that the naysayers can always say, "Ah, ha, ha."
Either you failed or you were insincere and made a false promise you
never intended to keep. My opponents beat the tar out of me in the
reelection, and then when I ran for governor, because I made a
commitment to cut violent crime, including homicides, in
half. You know, we didn't get there. We got to about 40% or 44% for
violent crime, and homicides we only got down by 25% or 30%. But I
found that people were actually smart enough to understand the power of
setting goals, measurement and performance.