Local Author Writes Book on Changing Government Budgets

A local author and municipal budgeting expert has written a book about the principles and practices that can change how governments create and manage budgets.

Indian Spring resident Andrew Kleine published “City on the Line: How Baltimore Transformed Its Budget to Beat the Great Recession and Deliver Outcomes,” based on his 10 years as the city’s budget director under three mayors.

Described as “parts memoir, manifesto, and manual, this book tells the story of Baltimore’s radical departure from traditional line item budgeting to a focus on outcomes like better schools, safer streets, and stronger neighborhoods.”

Kleine said he was inspired in 2004 by a book titled “The Price of Government” by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson (who also wrote the foreward to Kleine’s book).

“It presented a new way of thinking about government budgeting, which was that it’s about purchasing results, not purchasing line items,” he said.

He was working for the federal government (where he served for about 15 years) at the time and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, had limited success introducing the new concepts.

“Then I had the opportunity to become budget director for the city of Baltimore, and the mayor at the time, Sheila Dixon, told me in my interview, ‘The budget is like a black box to me. Ninety-nine percent of it is on autopilot,’” Kleine said.

He presented her with the idea of outcome budgeting, “and she loved it,” he said. “So we got going.”

The city started getting some notice for its new approach, he said, and Kleine began to get invited to speak at conferences, where he quickly learned the vast majority of attendees had no idea about “The Price of Government.”

So one of the reasons he wrote “City on the Line” was to keep Osborne’s and Hutchinson’s ideas alive.

He also knew there was interest in the concepts from the number of representatives from cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta who visited Baltimore to see what the city was doing with its budgeting.

Finally, he said, so many people seemed to know little about Baltimore, other than what they learned from watching “The Wire” or read about the civil disturbances that followed the killing of Freddie Gray while in police custody in 2015.

“I thought this was little bit of good news and a good story to tell,” Kleine said.

Also, he loves to write.

“This was a chance to stretch my creative legs a little bit, and I really had fun with it,” he said.

Kleine served from 2008 under Dixon, then in 2010 with her successor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. He worked about a year with current Mayor Catherine Pugh before resigning as budget director in April after 10 years of working to implement outcome budgeting.

“Whereas traditional budgeting starts with looking at what was spent the year before,” he explained, “and then normally just changing incrementally over time, outcome budgeting starts with what you’re trying to accomplish in the future, and then organizing your budget to accomplish those things.

“You’re no longer allocating dollars to agencies at the front end of the process,” he continued, explaining why this process is so disruptive, “you’re allocating them to outcomes.”

Those outcomes could include anything from better schools, safer streets and stronger neighborhoods to cleaner air and water, based on key indicators that measure progress toward those goals.

“This is getting specific,” Kleine said. “These are things that an agency can write a budget proposal to help to improve.”

The process in Baltimore included a review of each city service and then an agency budget proposal for each service. The proposals were then submitted to a “results” team that included employees and community members, who provided both strategic guidance and reviews of every proposal, then recommendations that ultimately went to the mayor.

One example Kleine cites involved the city’s Office of Civil Rights, whose head at first hated the notion of outcomes budgeting on the grounds that what the office did wasn’t measurable.

The upshot of the process was that the office identified functions that were not key to its core mission of resolving discrimination complaints (preferably out of court).

Once the office got rid of what was considered extraneous functions, Kleine said, “that improved the timeliness of their case resolution.”

The ultimate outcome the office wanted was to resolve complaints in a way that strengthened communities, which meant retraining the staff in community mediation. They also set a goal of doubling in one year the percentage of cases that were settled out of court via negotiation.

“They didn’t reach that goal, but over three years, they increased that percentage by 40 percent,” Kleine said. “That was an example of how outcome budgeting really drove an agency to reinvent itself.”

Amazon reviews of “City on the Line” have been positive since its release last month. For example:

  • Andrew Kleine’s reflections on his ten tumultuous years at the helm of Baltimore’s budget office have resulted in the best ‘how to’ book for a budget director I’ve ever read—Mark Funkhouser, publisher of Governing Magazine and former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri
  • “City on the Line”puts a human face on budgeting, which I didn’t think was possible. Kleine’s stories about brave and innovative public servants are inspiring—Rashad M. Young, city administrator, District of Columbia
  • In “City on the Line,” Andrew Kleine paints a picture of a new Baltimore government – one that produces better results for more residents and less money through redefining its budget process using data-driven decision making. It’s an optimistic, yet reasonable, approach to running a city that says we can add value without adding to the bottom line. If you’re looking to improve government finance or use tax dollars better, this is the book for you—Rebecca Rhynhart, city controller, City of Philadelphia.

Since his resignation, Kleine has been consulting with cities on budgeting and long-term financial planning, and will become the county’s chief administrative officer under Marc Elrich after Elrich’s inauguration in December.

Kleine’s book is available on Amazon for Kindle as well as in hardback or paperback, and is also sold in Apple’s iBooks store.

Photo of the author and book cover graphic courtesy of Andrew Kleine and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

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