Who Is Driving The Bus? – One Legislator’s Road to Accountability
Connecticut State Representative Diana Urban refuses to accept the status quo of incremental budgeting and short-sighted horse-trading. In Who Is Driving The Bus?, Urban leads readers on her journey to Results-Based Accountability (RBA), sharing lessons learned along the way. As Rep. Urban explains, the titular question “encapsulates the attributes—including leadership, purpose and trustworthiness—to which our elected officials should aspire. Just as bus drivers are expected to, at a minimum, deliver us to our destinations safely, it seems reasonable that we should expect as much from our elected representatives.”
This book is a refreshing vehicle for distilling pragmatic advice gained from real political experience, while remaining true to core values. Budget oversight, bill markups and appropriations deliberations can be dry, technical, almost academic topics. But in her straight-shooting, colloquial, and at times irreverent tone, Urban presents an engaging narrative for current and aspiring legislators that is interwoven with clear and valuable lessons that they can apply to their own budgeting strategies. She eschews the textbook format typically reserved for books about budget and policy, and instead embraces a personal case study approach that proves remarkably effective as a pedagogical tool. This is not merely a “how to” manual. It’s a companion guide for legislators in which Representative Urban shares some of the personal and professional struggles of adopting RBA in Connecticut’s legislative process.
In each chapter of Who Is Driving The Bus, Urban recounts a different phase of her journey—from freshman legislator to co-Chair of the state’s Committee on Children. Her anecdotes paint a picture that most legislators will recognize: forgetting to check on the progress of programs for which she had secured funding in the previous budget cycle; dealing with the bureaucrats at state agencies determined to wait out any new ideas she proposed; encouraging officials from underperforming programs to admit deficiencies without fear of blame.
These are some of the difficult challenges that legislators must confront. The path of least resistance is to pass the same budget as one’s predecessors, deliver speeches full of rhetoric, and try not to make waves before the next campaign. But the path to accountability requires that we do better.
Skeptics should note that Urban is a credible spokeswoman for both RBA and children’s issues. As co-Chair of the Committee on Children, Representative Urban used RBA methodologies to establish the Connecticut Children’s Report Card—a scorecard that requires every children’s program in the state to report how its funding yields measurable results. The project is still a work in progress, but the public can track its development online at http://www.ctkidsreportcard.org.
Using the Children’s Report Card as an example, Urban explains that if state legislators want to achieve their policy goals and budget priorities, they need to be able to answer three fundamental questions of RBA: How much are you doing? How well are you doing it? Is anyone better off? And although she acknowledges that RBA is no panacea, she makes a forceful argument for using the tool to identify programs that deliver results for constituents. The ultimate goal is to employ limited resources more efficiently to achieve measurable improvements that reflect our values and priorities.
This book is a great resource and should be read carefully by freshman and senior legislators across the country. As state and local budget constraints have become tighter, we need more elected officials driving down the path to accountability rather than staying on the path of least resistance.
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