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New terms, new opportunities

US Electorate Looks to Governors to Lead States from Austerity to Prosperity

When they began their terms four years ago—on the heels of the Great Recession—U.S. governors largely pursued austerity agendas that combined cutting, taxing and borrowing to balance their budgets. While that approach solved the math problem they faced, it left their constituents paying more for what they were getting, and often getting less.

In November 2014, 36 states held gubernatorial elections. In January 2015, 11 new governors will be sworn in while 25 will return for another term in office. Whether welcoming a new leader or continuing with an incumbent, U.S. citizens are looking for governors to move beyond austerity. In fact, citizens are anticipating a prosperity agenda focused on growing jobs and the economy, redesigning services to achieve better results with available resources and paying down the debt that looms as a drag on economic vitality.

It adds up to a tall order for every governor—as well as a unique opportunity to take on some of their states’ toughest challenges in health and human services, education, workforce development, pensions and other areas of public service. And while supporting economic growth and being a prudent steward of state resources will always be at the core of the gubernatorial mission, what’s changing is how governors can deliver results that meet or exceed the expectations of those they serve.

The shift from austerity to prosperity will require a transformation in public service, with state governments re-examining and re-imagining what they do and how. Based on Accenture research and experience, we believe that transformation will be based on three core principles.

Principle 1: One size fits one. Traditional public services have been so standardized that they force citizens to conform to a one-size-fits-all model. Governors can take action to enable individuals to customize the way they interact with and receive services from government. Doing so isn’t just faster and better. Thanks to innovative technologies, it can also be cheaper.

Principle 2: Action is better than reaction. Fixing what’s broken is always more costly than preventing a problem in the first place. With a wealth of data—and a host of analytics tools and methods—governors have the ability to anticipate and proactively address issues. That, in turn, will help ensure the public gets what it wants and needs just in time.

Principle 3: Lead like an entrepreneur. For decades, public management has been too focused on assuring compliance and following rules. Originally intended to prevent fraud and corruption, all of that “red tape” is now hindering government’s ability to deliver results and to do so quickly. In shifting from a public management to a public entrepreneurship mindset, governors can redesign both services and compliance with a focus on results.

From education and workforce development to health and human services, citizens don’t want to pay more for or get less from public services. They want to get more for what they are paying. Delivering those results is the challenge and opportunity that lies before every governor.