Maryland Governor O'Malley Prepares Ambitious Set of Goals

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009

As mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley (D) embraced the ambitious goal of driving down his city's stubbornly high homicide count to 175 a year. He never came close, but his boosters say O'Malley's focus helped galvanize a significant reduction in violent crime.

Now in the backstretch of a first term as Maryland's governor, O'Malley seems to employing the same strategy again. In spades.

Drawing little public attention so far, a small team of aides has developed a list of 15 major goals -- and several dozen smaller ones -- intended to guide the remainder of O'Malley's term, as well as a second one if he wins reelection next year.

Among the targets: Increase public transit ridership by 10 percent a year. (That would require doubling the growth seen last year, when high gas prices led many people to abandon their cars.) Reduce violent crime against women and children by 25 percent by 2012. (That would require recent trends to accelerate and continue for several years.) And end childhood hunger in Maryland by 2015. (No one seems to know exactly how that would be measured.)

Other goals provide aggressive benchmarks for education, the environment and health care.

O'Malley's office is preparing to publicize the efforts in coming days. But the loftiness of the goals and the motives behind them are already sparking debate as O'Malley prepares to stand for reelection.

"To establish goals for government is a good thing to do, as is trying to use them to drive policy, but these strike me as so exceptionally high and not achievable that it could be the kind of thing that makes people jaded about politics," said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

In an interview, O'Malley described the goals as "pretty ambitious but not unachievable," and he said that is by design.

"If by putting my political neck on the line we're able to get halfway to these goals, it will be far more progress than the previous administration," O'Malley said. "The politically safe thing to do is never have any goals, because then you can't be judged or measured by them. That's the risk we take."

The team of aides that developed the targets and is responsible for pushing state agencies to meet them has been dubbed the Governor's Delivery Unit. That concept was borrowed from former British prime minister Tony Blair. Last summer, O'Malley heard the former head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit speak at a conference. But O'Malley watchers say the new unit is consistent with O'Malley's past initiatives.

"Governor O'Malley has invested heavily in the use of statistical measures to attack problems," said Herbert C. Smith, a professor of political science at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. "It's really part of his governing identity."

As mayor, O'Malley developed CitiStat, which required agency heads to appear regularly before O'Malley and top aides to justify statistical trends, such as overtime pay, response time for filling potholes and the number of garbage trucks in need of repair. As buzz about CitiStat grew in governing circles, a parade of visitors from across the country and abroad came to visit the sessions.

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