(Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP)
Six months in office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn’t abandoning the gigabytes of spreadsheets left behind by her “nerdy” predecessor, but she is putting her own stamp on them.
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who described himself as “One Tough Nerd,” developed the “Michigan Dashboard” as a regularly updated measure of how Michigan excels — or not — in key areas such as the economy, education and public health.
Now Whitmer, a Democrat, is introducing some new measuring sticks to the dashboard, “based on our priority areas,” said spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.
Under the economy, for example, the new dashboard would measure the percentage of Michigan’s workforce that is unionized, with increases marked with a positive “up” arrow, and decreases denoted with a “down” arrow, according to a sample Brown shared with the Free Press.
Though still under development, it would appear Whitmer’s dashboard would measure more items, based on draft samples shared by Brown. While Snyder measured gross domestic product, the unemployment rate, the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the percentage of children living in poverty, Whitmer would add measures for the youth unemployment rate, long-term jobless numbers, the percentage of Michiganders with an associate’s degree or better, and the percentage of residents without health insurance, among other items.
The measure of unionization is one of many items that were not part of the dashboard designed by Snyder, who in 2012 signed Michigan’s “right-to-work” law, making it illegal to require workers to financially support a union as a condition of employment.
Charlie Owens, Michigan state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said it’s legitimate to measure unionization as a way of assessing the impact of the right-to-work law, but not as a way of measuring state government efforts to encourage workers to unionize, which he said he hopes is not the case.
“It’s clear that this is a pro-labor administration,” Owens said. “We don’t have a problem with pro-labor. We have a problem with pro-union at the expense of workers and freedom to choose.”
Brown did not respond Tuesday when asked whether it is a goal of the Whitmer administration to increase the unionization of the Michigan workforce.
Snyder made performance measurement a central theme of his administration during his first term, frequently saying he wanted to make “dashboard” the most overused word in Michigan. The system he introduced in 2011 measured 21 items under the categories of the economy, health and education, value for money government, quality of life and public safety.
Under Snyder, each department developed its own “scorecard,” similar to a dashboard, to measure progress in areas that were part of its responsibility.
Many of those department scorecards are also being retooled.
Among changes this year for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s scorecard is removal of a category titled “environmental stewardship.”
Department spokesman Jeff Cranson said the only item in the category was a measure of increases in the number of vehicles in the MDOT fleet powered by alternative fuels.
“We found this was not a true measure of performance but a cumulative count of the number of alternate fuel vehicles MDOT had purchased over time,” Cranson said.
“The Michigan Dashboard and MDOT scorecards are fluid reports that will continue to change over time to reflect the highest priorities of national programs, the current administration and the public.”
At the Michigan State Police, officials are awaiting additional direction from the Executive Office on the metrics the administration will want us to measure,” said spokeswoman Shanon Banner.
The Department of Technology, Management and Budget “is in the process of refreshing the department strategic plan and will be updating the scorecard to reflect the updated goals and objectives,” said spokesman Caleb Buhs.
“The timing is perfect because we can ensure alignment of our department goals with the priorities of the Whitmer administration,” he said.
Some felt Snyder took the data-driven government model too far.
In the wake of the Flint drinking water crisis, former Snyder aide Dennis Schornack told the Free Press that the lead contamination was partly the result of Snyder trying to run government like a business and placing too much emphasis on the bottom line.
“It’s sort of a single dimension for decision making — thinking that if it can’t be solved on a spreadsheet, it can’t be solved,” Schornack said
Snyder denied trying to run state government like a business.
This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.