Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Return of a Club Called Clout


Remember a few months ago when I brought to your attention a well-intentioned, infuriating train-wreck of a program called the Neighborhood Recovery Act?  The one into whose bottom tier I accidentally found myself tossed as low-level contract-employee placeholder and which, to my well-trained eyes, was clearly being managed from on-high by people who had no idea what they were doing?
From top to bottom, the problem with the NRI wasn't just that the program was a goddamn mess.

It was -- like many an IT project I slogged through back in the days of old -- depressingly clear from a mile away that it was wired to be a goddamn mess from the start.  The people at the top appeared to be sincere, but had no idea what they were doing.  The cost-controls were zilch.  The project plan was "throw a buncha stuff at it and hope it works out".  There were dozens of complex moving parts, all on different schedules, all run by different people, none of whom appeared to be talking to each other on a regular basis.  Staffing was a nightmare, with everything sub-sub-contracted out as far as possible to spread the money around.

And money was the thing.  

Money and deadlines.

Thanks to the the Great Recession, by 2010 social service organizations of all kinds had been decimated by massive, muscle-and-bone cuts to at all levels. and it was into that resource-starved environment that this a brand-new $55M grant arrived.


New Money!

And deadlines. No concise objectives or well-defined outcomes, but lots and lots of deadlines each of which came with severe penalties.

So here's a pro tip for you kids out there:  When a project combines 1) no clear plan and no overall leader, 2) a high public profile and 3) lots of drop-dead for the exit as soon as you can plan your escape because
  • The thing is doomed.  Doooomed I say.  And
  • As sure as God made John Wesley Dean III, the first thing that will happen after the Big Project fails due to incompetent management is that management will go looking for scapegoats among the rank-and-file. And when that happens, you would do well to remember the wise words of Amarillo Slim: "If you’re at a poker table and you don’t see a sucker, it’s you.”
Well watch this space, because over the summer this story is going to become a Big Deal.


Three reasons.

First, a bipartisan legislative committee has taken up the matter.  Everyone on the committee can plainly see that something here is bent, and nobody wants to head into November with that stink on them:
“To me, what’s clear is we’ve only scratched the surface on how this total waste of taxpayer dollars happened,” said Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, co-chairman of a legislative panel that spent half the day Wednesday poring over a scathing February audit of Quinn’s program.

The bipartisan panel heard testimony for the first time on Auditor General William Holland’s audit of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. Holland called it a “hastily implemented” election-year program that had scant oversight over how millions of state grant dollars were spent and little to no effect on curbing street violence.

“There is a failure in the planning, implementation and management throughout this entire program,” Holland told the commission.

Even Democrats on the bipartisan panel joined Holland in condemning the Quinn program.

“There isn’t anybody on this commission that doesn’t agree with the auditor general that this program during its entire existence…had a myriad of problems that cost taxpayer dollars [and] did not do what it was supposed to do in communities,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, the co-chair of the audit commission.
Second, we're going to have a very tight race for governor here in Illinois this year.  

Third, money.  Governor Quinn's opponent, Bruce Rauner, is a Scott Walker Republican with a virtually unlimited war-chest.  Everyone is figuring this will be the most expensive governor's race in the state's history, so between now and November, the voters of Illinois can expect to hear about $50M dollar's worth of fiery condemnations of Pat Quinn and the failure of the NRI.

Since Chicago doesn't have anything like what the rest of the world would consider competitive elections, traditionally City programs that started with a bang and ended with a miserable whimper and taxpayers getting screwed have had virtually no effect on which party runs the place or who gets to sit in the Big Chair up on the 5th floor of City Hall (yes, there are a few exceptions.)

However, once you move out of Daleyville, the perceived success or failure of key policy initiatives can sometimes actually affect the outcome of an election.

And well it should.  

1 comment:

Mister Roboto said...

A Scott Walker Republican with a huge campaign war-chest? Oh my, that is bad. For the sake of your state, I sincerely and profoundly hope your local Democratic Party doesn't go for the "take a dive" option.