Moneyball is an informal name given to sabermetrics.
Sabermetrics comes from the acronym SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. Specifically, sabermetrics is about using non-traditional statistics to determine how baseball players perform. More generally, it is about using numbers to measure performance.
This is going to be the homeland security link. The enterprise continues to have problems connecting spending to performance. There’s less homeland security money to spend. Where should it go?
The theological response includes the chant “risk-based.” The political answer is more nuanced. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m thinking about Moneyball in part because the Oakland A’s took four games from the New York Yankees earlier in June. The A’s have a 60 million dollar team salary; the Yankees spend 203 million.
I’m also thinking about Moneyball because of an article I read last week by John Bridgeland and Peter Orsazag called Can Government Play Moneyball?: “How a new era of fiscal scarcity could make Washington work better.”
The A’s get credit for popularizing sabermetrics. In 2002, they were expected to use their 41 million dollar team salary to compete against teams like the Yankees (with their 215 million dollar payroll).
Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” gives the details. Several people in the A’s hierarchy wanted to make resource allocation decisions based on a broad range of rigorous statistical analysis. They wanted to supplement, if not replace, the traditional measures used by experienced baseball men — mostly gut feel — to decide how to spend money. There’s a vivid scene in the Moneyball movie that shows how baseball scouts reacted to the new rules. Not well. But the A’s went to the playoffs in 2002 and 2003.
Sabermetrics got the credit. Other teams and sports took notice. Moneyball — “replacing scouts’ traditional beliefs and biases about players with data-intensive studies of what skills actually contribute most to winning” — arrived.
Bridgeland and Orsazag think we can do something like moneyball with government spending.
They start their article with this:
Based on our rough calculations, less than $1 out of every $100 of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely. As former officials in the administrations of Barack Obama (Peter Orszag) and George W. Bush (John Bridgeland), we were flabbergasted by how blindly the federal government spends. In other types of American enterprise, spending decisions are usually quite sophisticated, and are rapidly becoming more so: baseball’s transformation into “moneyball” is one example. But the federal government—where spending decisions are largely based on good intentions, inertia, hunches, partisan politics, and personal relationships—has missed this wave.
The authors offer anecdotes and data to support questioning the relationship between spending and performance. That’s not a new insight. But it’s a measure of how jaded you’ve become if you can read without surprise that the Scared Straight-type programs increases criminal behavior rather than decreases it, or that a member of congress can respond to a data-based program suggestion by saying ““You and your staff may have your Ph.D.s, but you have no clue…. “We don’t need any of your fancy analysis.”
I’m sure you have your own stories.
The authors believe things can change:
We’re optimistic too, even though the obstacles to moneyball in government are daunting. Absent major changes in campaign finance, special interests that profit from blind budgeting will still have a powerful means of thwarting reform. Agencies’ staff will roll their eyes at the next round of “budget reforms,” wait out the incumbent, and then continue business as usual. And members of Congress will stay wedded to their legacy programs.
But we believe the federal budget crunch will force change. Already, many cities have had to choose between fewer cops and fewer teachers; between slower ambulance response and less-frequent garbage removal. The federal government is now beginning to face similarly stark choices. Do we really want to furlough hundreds of FBI agents at a time of heightened threats? Or lay off air-traffic controllers? Do we really want big cuts at the National Institutes of Health or to early-childhood-education investments, both of which are engines of economic growth? Do we really want to eat our seed corn?
Does moneyball (as metaphor or program) have anything to offer homeland security? Something is needed.
In yesterday’s Homeland Security Watch, Beckner wrote about a fiscally irresponsible and data-blind proposal to almost double the size of the border patrol and reincarnate SBInet.
Also yesterday the Government Accountability Office provided what seems to be their annual reminder that
According to FEMA officials, neither program [ Emergency Management Performance Grants and Assistance to Firefighters Grants programs] has a standardized tool with which to validate the performance data that are self-reported by recipients; additionally, the regions are inconsistent in their approaches to verifying program performance data. The absence of a formal established validation and verification procedure, as directed by Circular No. A-11, could lead to the collection of erroneous performance data.
A friend recently sent me a collection of articles making the same point. Here’s a sample (with my emphasis):
Cybersecurity — DHS IG Says Department Lacks Strategic Plan To Implement Cybersecurity Mandate. The Government Computer News .. cites a “recently released” report by the DHS Office of Inspector General which says DHS’ efforts at implementing the Federal
Information Security Management Act of 2010 “are hampered by a lack of a strategic plan with long-term goals and metrics”….
New border policy — House Committee Approves Border Security Legislation. All 32 members of the House Committee on Homeland security voted Wednesday in support of legislation by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) that would “require the Department of Homeland Security to establish metrics and a roadmap for additional enforcement before seeking additional enforcement spending….”
Old border policy — Napolitano, McCain Discuss Border Security, Immigration Reform In Arizona. KPHO-TV Phoenix notes differences in gauging border security between Napolitano and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. KPHO says that while “Napolitano says the border is the safest it’s been in decades,” Brewer argues the border won’t be secure until local residents indicate as much. Meanwhile, “McCain said at this point there is no way to gauge when the border is secure,” stating, “We’ll have to establish those metric and they are very difficult. Right now there are not enough sufficient metrics in order to make that assessment.”
TSA — Pistole Defends Behavior Detection Program. USA Today reports the IG “said in a 41-page report…that the TSA doesn’t effectively assess the program or have a comprehensive training program.” Assistant inspector general for audits Anne Richards wrote, “As a result, TSA cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”
Information Sharing Enterprise — ODNI’s Networking Efforts Cited In Appeal For Agencies To Share More Information. Government Executive reports Leon Fuerth, former national security adviser to Vice President Al Gore, argued Monday at a global policy forum in Washington that … “Networked governance structures can facilitate rapid flow of information and can thus serve as the basis for a smarter and more prescient bureaucracy.” He added that Washington is moving towards this, citing “the Office of Management and Budget’s implementation of cross-agency priority goals and metrics under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act…as well as in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” but cautioned that “a like effort by the Obama White House national security team…was derailed by congressional appropriators who felt undermined.“
I’m sure you have your own stories.
A sometimes cynical college tells me moneyball in government is simply another way one set of interests will try to take power away from another group. He believes moneyball won’t work.
As much as I would like to see something like moneyball (as metaphor or experiment) crack the performance code, I’m not optimistic. Unlike baseball, where performance is measured every time a ball is put into play, homeland security is more like the game of Chinese baseball described in a 1975 Public Administration Review article by R. G. H. Siu (the article – Chinese Baseball and Public Administration — is behind a $25 JSTOR paywall): once the ball is in play (I’m paraphrasing), any player can change any of the rules, move any of the bases, alter the field or modify the game in any way that seems sensible at the time.
Keep the game going.
If the history of homeland security budgeting and spending has demonstrated one truism over the past dozen years it is this: threat specters trump performance metrics. The fear of terrorists, cybersecurity villains, mega-disasters, hoards of illegal immigrants, rampant drug smuggling, and information dots not getting connected in time outgun rule-loving, eye-shadded, data-sniffing nerds.
Keep the game going.
I do think Bridgeland and Orsazag’s idea is worth tinkering with. If moneyball did come to homeland security, what might it look like? What numbers could tell us more about performance than the current approach of dividing “number of things” into “amount spent?” Maybe there is someone in the homeland security enterprise already doing this, or something like it. If so, where are you? What are you doing?
One more thing. If moneyball does have something to teach homeland security, the teacher probably won’t be very involved with the “doing” of homeland security.
Neither sabermetrics nor moneyball came from baseball players.
Correction and updates June 25, 2013 11:18 AM :
1. The A’s only took three games in a row from the Yankees in June, not four. I had that confused with the Met’s four game sweep of the Yankees in May.
2. A helpful explanation of Moneyball can be found in Season 22, Episode 3 of the Simpsons, called “Moneybart”. The explanation starts around the 7:45 mark.
3. For reasons buried in gramatical tombs, the apostrophe in “A’s” is apparently correct, as is the absence of one in “Simpsons.”
4. For more on how FEMA assesses preparedness, please see Tim Manning’s June 25, 2013 “Written testimony of FEMA Protection and National Preparedness Deputy Administrator Tim Manning for a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia hearing titled “Are We Prepared? Measuring the Impact of Preparedness Grants Since 9/11”. The proposal to “establish a National Preparedness Grant Program” is described toward the end of the testimony.
5. Among the thoughtful comments on today’s post, please see the ones by “JD” and an equally anonymous “street cop.”