New Paper Provides Recommendations for Cities Facing Fiscal Uncertainties Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

June 18, 2020
City skyline

Cambridge, MA — Today, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, a research center at Harvard Kennedy School, released “Fiscal Strategies to Help Cities Recover—And Prosper,” a new paper by Stephen Goldsmith and Charles “Skip” Stitt offering strategies to strengthen the efficiency and mandates of existing government offices while providing recommendations to make cities more resilient and better prepared for tomorrow’s challenges in the wake of COVID-19.


Despite robust economies, many local officials entered 2020 already worried about budgets that looked tenuously balanced in the short term and problematic in the long term due to enormous pension and health-care issues. Today, in the wake of COVID-19, federal support is clearly necessary, but it is also apparent that it cannot alleviate all the pressures on communities as responsibilities related to the pandemic skyrocket while revenues plummet.


While many public managers will rightly deploy a host of tactical cost-cutting measures, the most creative among them will explore deeper and more strategic changes, such as those presented within this new report, which will help address the current crisis while preparing their cities for the future.


Goldsmith, the Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Stitt, principal at Faegre Drinker Consulting and advisor to cities on operational excellence, suggest a transition to a culture deeply focused on data, incentives for city workers to produce internal reforms, public-private partnerships that monetize operational excellence, and rapid adoption of both new technologies and good ideas borrowed from other jurisdictions. The authors recognize that more deliberate and strategic approaches may be harder to implement but they argue for changes that do not harm incumbent public employees nor negatively impact cities’ efforts to ensure access and equity.


According to Goldsmith and Stitt, “As local governments pivot to this new normal, we advocate for a cost-management strategy that includes an 'all of the above' approach. Many city halls may be forced into serious budget cuts, including curtailing services or institutions that were previously considered off-limits. However, we argue here against indiscriminate cost-cutting, employee reductions in force, or rote across-the-board cuts and, instead, propose strategic responses designed to help cope with the present and better prepare for the future.”


This paper is a continuation of the Ash Center’s Operational Excellence in Government initiative, a research project highlighting opportunities for cost savings, recommendations of proven efficiencies, and provides implementation guidance on operational efficiency themes across state and local governments. For more information, please visit


About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation 

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit


Contact Information 

Daniel Harsha
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Sarah Grucza
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation