VACostCutting

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why do we assume government does it best?

Dr. Walter Williams (a member of Americans for Prosperity Foundation's National Board of Directors) has an editorial today entitled “In Government We (Continue, Foolishly, to) Trust.”

His article focuses on FEMA’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina, especially compared with the response provided by private businesses. Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Home Depot had trucks on the road almost immediately to deliver desperately needed food, water and supplies quickly and efficiently, while the government response took days and weeks. Though his example is federal, his point is perfectly applicable to state government as well.

Why do we continue to assume that government is often the best provider of services?

One poster on a previous thread suggested the Cost Cutting Caucus was merely a nickel and dime operation in comparison to the actual magnitude of the budget.

But the Caucus’s focus is on critical changes needed in the overall operations of government—changes that can save thousands to millions initially, and over time save a significant portion of the state’s budget. Do we want Virginia run more like FEMA or more like a business?

Are there private sector alternatives that can provide services in a more cost effective and efficient manner, better serving both the consumers of these services and the taxpayer?

Geoff and Norm have both pointed out examples in highway maintenance. Norm also mentioned ABC stores.

Geoff had a thorough post on key bills this year, but I think this warrants more discussion. From specific examples (ie privatization of prison food service) to overall evaluation and reform (ie HB1295 creating the Council on Government Accountability & Efficiency), we have a real opportunity to rethink the way government delivers services to Virginians.

Will we accept the status quo or challenge ourselves to do better?

~whitney

3 Comments:

  • The mainstream of Virginia fully suppports privitization of services, particularly if oversight is focused on accountability and results. The "Reinventing Government" movement fostered that over a decade ago.

    I'm not sold on the overly simplistic "government should run like a business" argument that is so popular because, practically speaking: #1 - Most businesses fail in the first few years for a variety of reasons, #2 - Profit-seeking behavior in the real world of business (not the MBA/PHD Econ world) is often myopic and shortsighted with little attention to quality and service standards, as well as, honest assessment (see: GWB's cloistered style) and #3 - Part of the problem with failures of the current federal administration relate to using the MBA model itself (see: FEMA, Intelligence, etc) and is demonstrative of bad corporate management practice.

    The more appropriate focus would be simply having government run like top-notch government agencies around the country are. There are plenty of examples of this, some even in our own back yards of Virginia. Playing to the extremes (VDOT, etc) only clouds reality.

    By Blogger SouthoftheJames.com, at 1/27/2006 2:07 PM  

  • One problem government has, it seems to me, is that job categories and departments are fairly rigid. There is little cross-training and cross-pollenization. When one part of an organization is "stressed," other sections might be in a lull, but aren't called on to help. It's not their job! In a private business, there is more flexibility to shift resources short-term or long-term when conditions change.

    In the case of a stand-by function, such as a FEMA or FEMA-like organization, this type of specialization can be a particular hindrance. Private companies could react quickly to Katrina, for example, because they could send the type of help that the specific situation needed without regard to who was in charge of what, who was trained to do what, or what "plans" were on the shelf.

    In Virginia, I think emergency planning should include the assignment of specific contingent duties to non-traditional state employee personnel. I work in economic development, but I could load a truck, direct traffic, or answer phones to augment an emergency effort.

    On a larger scale, a program ought to be tried in state government where successful managers get temporary assignments in different agencies. A new set of eyes in a function could do wonders. Best practices might be spread more quickly, especially to functions that might be underperforming or in need of boost.

    By Blogger Will Vehrs, at 1/28/2006 11:09 AM  

  • On a larger scale, a program ought to be tried in state government where successful managers get temporary assignments in different agencies. A new set of eyes in a function could do wonders. Best practices might be spread more quickly, especially to functions that might be underperforming or in need of boost.

    The program you cite already exists. However, much like the Commonwealth's merit-based compensation program, it isn't funded at the state level and is rarely used.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/01/2006 8:53 AM  

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