How the MMR Went MIA

Posted by Doug Turetsky, October 27, 2010

Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the Mayor’s Management Report released last month was how little notice it got. Among the city’s daily newspapers, just the Daily News gave it any ink, and that was a modest 145 words.

That’s a far cry from the not so distant past, when release of the Mayor’s Management Report was a full-scale press event, resulting in significant attention from legislators, civic organizations, and the general public. Long viewed as one of the major reports coming from City Hall and a public marker of Mayoral successes and failures, the report’s stature has clearly declined.

If size is any measure of prominence, compare this year’s volume of 226 pages (plus about 206 pages of definitions and 63 pages of additional tables available online) to the management report issued by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for fiscal year 1997: there was a 112-page summary volume, a 311-page volume of agency narratives, a 308-page volume of agency and citywide indicators, and a separate volume of more than 90 charts for the press. Based on a Nexis search, stories of 500 or more words appeared in The New York Times, Daily News, and Newsday the day after the report’s release that year.

Granted, such data avalanches can bury useful information under piles of less useful information, which can enable turning the Mayor’s Management Report into more of a public relations document than what it is supposed to be, a clear presentation of its hits and misses. Point readers to what you want them to see and leave it to others to have the energy or initiative to find numbers that might be less favorable.

To its credit, the Bloomberg Administration has sought to turn the management report into a more meaningful and accessible assessment of city government performance. An emphasis was placed on indicators reflecting outcomes. Unfortunately, much useful data was dropped from the report—information essential to understanding underlying trends.

Say, for example, you’re trying to determine if the trimmed down police force, which must now also devote a lot of its energy to counterterrorism, is able to respond fast enough to calls for help. The management report used to present response times to calls of crimes in progress by borough, now there’s only a citywide number, a figure not particularly helpful given the city’s geographic size, more than 300 square miles.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito has introduced legislation to restore another important piece of information no longer part of the Mayor’s Management Report: the number of radio runs the police make each year related to domestic violence. The report also used to routinely tell us how many arrests there were for violations of orders of protection. This is the kind of information that can be helpful in gauging the city’s efforts to combat domestic violence. So the relevant stats—the inputs necessary to understand the outcomes—should be part of the report, or at least made available as a regularly updated online supplement.

Making the management report matter again may also be an issue of timing. When the Mayor’s Management Report was instituted in the mid-1970s, the intention was to help inform budget decisions. That intent is no less important today. In the past IBO and others have suggested the management report be released in conjunction with the Mayor’s Executive Budget. Rather than fading into the bureaucratic morass, the Mayor’s Management Report should be an essential tool during budget deliberations.