Abell Salutes: “CitiStat”

Salutes / Community Development

For making Baltimore City government more responsive.

“If you want to change the outcomes produced by government, you have to change what government does.” That is the credo of CitiStat, the O’Malley administration’s hands-on, no-nonsense, no-delay response mechanism designed to deal promptly and effectively with citizen complaints. Modeled after New York City’s similar CompStat, the system holds managers accountable every 14 days for the handling of everything from the simple pothole nuisance to the more sophisticated problems of drug-related crime.

Every two weeks the agencies and organizational units participating in CitiStat submit detailed information about indicators that determine performance and service. These numbers quantify such matters as complaints about overtime, unscheduled leave, performance markers, retention rates for recovering addicts in treatment, or how long it takes to abate a pothole complaint. Geographic information is plotted and displayed on detailed computer maps that help policy makers and managers spot problems and formulate strategies to solve them. CitiStat hallmarks include accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, effective tactics and strategies, and relentless follow-up and assessment.

Here are a few examples of CitiStat at work:

  • Baltimore’s health standards dictate that all moderate to high-risk food establishments undergo a Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point inspection at least once a year. Last November, however, the backlog of uninspected food establishments had climbed into the hundreds, a fact brought to light by a news report. The issue was immediately addressed at the Health Department’s next CitiStat session. It  turned out that though the department had standards for how often restaurant inspections should occur, productivity standards for inspectors had never been developed. The department was challenged to eliminate the inspections backlog as soon as possible. With the help of CitiStat, the Health Department developed performance standards for its inspectors that require them to visit more restaurants during the workday, while maintaining the highest quality of inspections. The department systematically reduced the backlog of uninspected restaurants, and in just a few months announce that the backlog had been eliminated.
  • Meter readers from the Department of Public Works Bureau of Water and Wastewater are required to read every water meter in the city system four times each year. According to Mayor O’Malley, “When we started measuring this activity though CitiStat we saw that the bureau was incurring a considerable amount of overtime at the end of each quarter, trying to satisfy requirements. Over recent months, watching this area very closely every two weeks in CitiStat, we find that we haven’t used an hour of overtime to read water meters since the end of the first quarter of 2001. That’s six months and counting.”
  • In some cases analysis of a complaint using CitiStat data shows that the complaint is not well-founded. For example, when a television station aired a news story on what it said was as a high number of number of broken fire hydrants in the Baltimore area, the Mayor’s office immediately took up the matter with the Bureau of Water and Wastewater and the Fire Department. Tracking by CitiStat revealed that, in fact, the condition of the city’s hydrants did not and does not represent a risk.

The Abell Foundation salutes CitiStat, for its well-directed, energetic efforts in meeting citizens’ expectations of their government and for contributing to the improvement of the quality of life in Baltimore.