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Moneyball: The Real Way To Save Taxpayer Dollars?

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Steven Puetzer/Getty Images

Can the concepts that helped the Oakland A's reach new baseball heights be used to help governments spend your money wisely?

Moneyball is an economic strategy first employed by the Oakland Athletics to win games without a raft of star players.

The team used statistics to find players who could move the ball forward and score runs, without necessarily being home-run hitters.

It turns out, a growing number of cities, including Las Vegas, are turning to data to figure out how to best use taxpayer dollars. Betsy Fretwell, Las Vegas city manager, says data analysis helps the city try new approaches more quickly than in years past.

"It allows us to experiment a little bit more easily," she said, "So that we know if we're trying to achieve something and it's not working we can stop that, adjust and do something different." 

But change isn't easy, Fretwell added. And getting entrenched government workers to use data over intuition honed by years of experience can be a slow process.

"It takes a lot of persistence at the senior leadership level of an organization, demanding that decisions that are made throughout the organization are based in data," she said.

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Fretwell pointed to two success stories.

The first is the city's effort to use renewable energy. The city started using small solar power projects and other renewable energy sources several years ago. It found by tracking the data it had saved $6 million on its energy bill. With that information in hand, the city is now looking to use renewable energy sources entirely.  

The second success was the effort to make the most congested and crash-prone intersections safer. Fretwell said the city found the intersections with the most crashes and targeted those for improvements. She said congestion in those areas is down 25 percent.

Kevin Madden, co-author of "Moneyball For Government", and a CNN political analyst, said the data-driven approach for funding builds trust in the public, because they can see how it has worked. 

"At the end of the day, it's about having an impact and getting the most efficient use of the taxpayer dollars," Madden said, "They can take that data and evidence and they can present it to the taxpayers, to the public, and demonstrate that they're having a stronger impact on the programs people care about."

He said the moneyball principals work best when the decisions are highly localized.

"When people feel that they have a personal investment in it, that's where it works best," he said, "That's where we see some of the most effective practices of moneyball for government being applied."

Guests

Betsy Fretwell, Las Vegas city manager; Kevin Madden, co-author "Moneyball For Government," CNN political analyst

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