Bacon Bits: Government Programs that Actually Work

Brace yourselves for an unfamiliar sensation — a round-up of state/local government initiatives that show promise of yielding positive results!

Good for the taxpayer, good for the environment. The Roanoke School Board has approved a $16.8 million plan that will generate $1.3 million in annual energy savings by replacing HVAC units, retrofitting lighting with LED fixtures and implementing other energy-efficiency measures. If the projected savings don’t materialize, energy-services contractor Trane will pay the difference, reports the Roanoke Times. The savings of $2.7 million over 15 years is modest, but it is extremely low risk.

Frankly, this is the type of project that schools, local government, state agencies, and universities across the state should be looking at. Upgrading HVAC and lighting systems is extremely common among commercial real estate companies because it makes economic and financial sense. I suggested years ago that the Commonwealth should issue bonds to fund in projects just like this, billing it as an efficiency and environmental initiative. What’s holding us back from rehabbing government buildings everywhere?

Speedy tickets for speeding tickets. Virginia State Police have inaugurated a two-year trial run in Northern Virginia of an electronic summons system that digitizes the ticket-writing process. Since June, troopers have seen average traffic-stop times drop from 26 minutes using the old paper-form system to 10 minutes per ticket, reports the Virginia Mercury. Rolling out the system statewide could require a new $5 fee for all state-police traffic and criminal cases. But digitization could save money by getting troopers back on the road quicker and reduce congestion caused by rubbernecking drivers. Assuming he values his time at more than $20 an hour, even the guy getting the ticket is better off. What’s not to like?

Tough love addiction rehab for inmates. Virginia’s Department of Corrections administers the nation’s largest treatment-oriented prison in the country, the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake. More than 1,000 offenders reside in the “Therapeutic Community” that combines time in prison with programs that treat substance abuse.

At the heart of the treatment program is a “brother’s keeper” approach in which inmates hold each other accountable for prison rules. The idea is to teach individual responsibility and accountability. “Although overall figures aren’t tracked,” writes Dave Ress with the Daily Press, “the recidivism rate for sub-set of offenders, about a quarter of Indian Creek’s population, who are sent there directly by a judge’s order is 26%. That’s not quite half the national rate.”

There’s a reason Virginia has one of the lowest rates of prison recidivism of any state in the country, and it’s because of programs like this.


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11 responses to “Bacon Bits: Government Programs that Actually Work”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    If the traffic time per stop falls by more than half why isn’t the cost borne by having fewer state troopers? This is a classic case of libertarianism vs conservatism. Conservatives might say that we can never have too many law enforcement personnel so efficiency savings should be paid with a surcharge to keep the same number of feet on the street. Libertarians might say that making trooper more efficient with traffic stops reduced the number of troopers and no surcharge should be needed.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Next time I meet a real Libertarian I’ll ask him/her. Pretty hard species to find. (True conservative, as well…..)

      Why not have the cop just run the credit card and pay the ticket on the spot? The idea that the state needs to impose a new $5 fee to REDUCE its operating costs bears very, very close scrutiny. Not buying that one, bro.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        I don’t believe in litmus tests for people regarding political views. It was those tests demanded by the Tea Party to ferret out RINOs that killed the Republican Party.

        I’ve never gotten a moving violation so I don’t know all the details. Paying by credit card for a ticket I don’t plan to contest sounds like a winner to me though.

        The only way this system lowers operating costs is through the need for fewer state troopers. If you implement the system but keep all the state troopers it actually costs more because you have to pay for the system. The cost of rubbernecking is dubious. Crashes, yes. Tickets, not so much. Who rubbernecks a ticket?

        So, Jim’s belief that this is a government program that works doesn’t pass muster in my opinion. It’s just another program that adds to the cost citizens pay for government.

        1. OK, I’ll amend my spin on the digitized tickets… it’s a program with the potential to create cost savings.

  2. wonderbread Avatar

    Sounds like a great idea, but that speeders time is worth $20/hour, not $1.25. Definitely still a win for people like me, but not so much lower skilled folks.

    Shouldn’t the cost be offset by troopers being able to write more tickets/hour anyways?

    Love the HVAC/efficiency stuff; it’s the sort of long-term thinking that governments would ideally be really good at, because they can safely bet on being around in the long run to capitalize.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Agreed, in determining the value of this idea you need to consider the time/cost savings to the citizen being ticketed. And add payment on the spot and the savings is phenomenal. I mean, we’ve all seen how quick you can run a card at a restaurant these days.

    2. Thanks for checking my math. I have amended the post.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    Any private company that developed a labor saving device that also improved customer satisfaction would take the labor savings through reduced headcount and count the increased customer satisfaction as a qualitative benefit. They would not ignore the labor savings and charge the customer a surcharge for the supposedly process enhancing and cost reducing innovation.

    Is there any evidence that Virginia is under-policed or that the state police are writing too few tickets?

    If not, cut the state police headcount and pass the savings on to the taxpayer.

    Imagine a labor saving improvement for assistant principals’ time in public school. Do you imagine so called conservatives saying the cost of that labor saving device should be passed on to the student in the form of a new charge? Of course not. They’d be calling for headcount reductions of assistant principals so fast your head would spin. If this makes the state police more efficient then we need fewer state police unless we’re operating at a deficit of state police today.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    You guys are PIKERS – why not take this to an even BETTER level by having license plate readers that catch speeders AND red light runners and other anti-social idiocy?

    Just get the trooper out of it altogether – no muss no fuss!

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Works for me. Nothing anti-social about it. Why should getting caught speeding be a game of chance? I routinely drive from Northern Virginia to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. There is NEVER a trip where I don’t see cases of absolutely mind-bogglingly reckless driving. Any technology system that got those worthless miscreants off the road would be worth its weight in gold (and reduced traffic fatalities).

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Comments on two areas:

    Energy savings–This program in which energy savings are “guaranteed” is a legalized scam. I have read those contracts that Trane and other companies enter into under these programs. There are so many contingencies in there that it would be extremely rare that the guaranteed savings are not produced under the terms of the contract. Moreover, the vendor gets two advantages: 1. Only a few companies are approved for the program, so the competition is limited and 2. the vendor gets to add a premium for the “risk” being assumed. There actually is little risk. The government would have been better off just upgrading those HVAC facilities and lighting systems outside of the energy savings guarantee program. The only advantage to the agency or local government is that the program enables them to access low-interest loans.

    DOC’s therapeutic community program: The 26 percent recidivism rate is not that great. It is higher than the rate for the system as a whole. You would think that, with all this treatment, the recidivism rate would be lower. Past evaluations of the therapeutic community program concept showed that its effectiveness depended a great deal on follow-up treatment after the inmate’s release. DOC once had sort of a step-down therapeutic community program for inmates so that the treatment could follow them upon release. That was deleted several years ago during budget cuts. The therapeutic community program at Indian Creek is administered by a private company under contract. I asked several times for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. When I retired, I was still waiting for that evaluation.

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