Policy Study

Competitive Cities

A Report Card on Efficiency in Service Delivery in America's Largest Cities


Consumers turn to objective third-party reports for information on many of the goods and services they purchase. Likewise, citizens often turn to guides and report cards that evaluate how their governments perform on readily understood measures. Money magazine rates the best cities in which to retire. Fortune magazine rates the best cities for business. Governing magazine grades cities on how well-managed they are. The U.S. Conference of Mayors rates city livability. Many other guides and report cards evaluate various city attributes.

Yet none of these reports examines how efficiently cities deliver services-what resources does it take to pick up the trash, fix the streets, or provide fire protection? Do some cities use more or fewer resources than others? This Competitive Cities Report Card is a first attempt at filling that gap.

Ideally, citizens would be able to ascertain how much money and worker time are required by their governments to provide various services, and how those resources compare to those used by other cities for the same quality of service. Without good performance data, citizens are left without good means to evaluate their city governments and must rely on cruder measures. Groups such as the Government Finance Officers Association, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and the International City/County Management Association have long sought to aid municipal governments in measuring performance of municipal services. Performance measures allow city officials and citizens to evaluate the connection between policy options and their outcomes. Without measuring results, citizens can’t tell success from failure. Specifically, performance measurement provides:

  1. Evaluation of how a program is working;
  2. A method to compare contracted to in-house services; and
  3. Improved communications with the public.