August 2017 Faculty Spotlight
August Faculty Spotlight with Professor, Daniel W. Williams
Why teach public affairs? Marxe School professors always have an iron-clad belief in serving the public and rationale for injecting themselves into a career where they can support public servants and policy leaders. Professor Williams discusses performance measurement, the derogatory nature of the term “bureaucrats”, and more.
What made you want to become a professor of public affairs?
Before coming to Baruch, I was the budget director for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, which was the state agency that administered Medicaid and several smaller programs. I worked for Medicaid at the state and local level for 18 years, starting at the front line with applicants for assistance and was the budget manager, then budget director for about 8 years. I completed my doctorate during this time.
I believe that most people who work for the public are dedicated, honorable people. Their labor improves our communities for everyone. Often they face unreasonable disparagement with loaded terms such as “bureaucrats” for performing the work that keeps our communities safe, healthy, and livable.
I teach public affairs to help these people more successfully perform the administrative aspects of the often difficult tasks and to help them cope with the environment in which they work. For example, I teach budgeting and financial analysis, not to make my students experts in the budgeting, but to help them perform the actual budget tasks they will likely face in their public roles. I teach performance measurement because many of them will likely have a role in defining information to be collected at their organizations at some point in their career.
What is one of the most critical lessons you teach your students in class?
It is hard to select one lesson. With performance measurement, I focus on very carefully identifying each variable to measure and being very precise in specifying how to measure it. I try to convince my students to avoid selecting measures just because they are already collected, or because they will be easy to obtain. I’m opposed to bad measurement. Bad measurement is worse than no measurement. When we don’t measure, at least we know that we have no information. When we use bad measurement, we are worse off because we think we do have information when, really, we do not. To learn from our measurement, it is important to take the time to carefully define what counts as measuring our performance and to carefully implement and report these measures.
Tell us about any current or upcoming research projects and what you hope to accomplish.
Presently I am working on a project on the fiscal effects of participatory budgeting in New York City. Several city council members initiated a participatory budgeting process within the city in 2012. Over the next few years, the number of engaged council members has grown to about half of the total council size. What they actually do is to allow resident committees to allocate funds for a small part of their capital project member earmarks. We have collected a fairly long time series of capital earmarks from public sources and aim to examine in what ways the members’ total allocation (both the participatory share and the remainder that is directed by the member) has changed since 2012. In particular, have the engaged members shifted their overall allocations in a way that reflects constituent preferences? The project is too early to predict results.