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View Diary: Lifeguards hired as public employees, Private Contractor fired. (66 comments)

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  •  clearly you don't want to manufacture fire engines (8+ / 0-)

    .... or other municipal vehicles.  

    But "cleaning services in bulk?"  What's that supposed to mean?   That a crew of three custodians can magically clean city offices faster & more thoroughly if they're employees of a private company than if they're municipal employees?

    Outsourcing of labor is obsolete for the vast majority of municipal job descriptions.  All the factors of production are the same, all the information for management is universally available.  

    As for economies of scale, e.g. Blackwater can buy police cars by the thousands but Podunk Iowa has to buy them in onezies and twozies: that's bunk also.  Smaller municipalities can tag their orders on with larger municipalities to gain the same bulk-buying advantages as the latter.  This also lets the smaller municipalities buy better (equipment, materials, whatever) than they could afford otherwise.

    As for cafeterias, talk to the City of Berkeley CA about running school cafeterias.  When they contracted it out, the food was typical crap, low nutritional value.  When they brought it back in-house, they were able to reduce costs, improve quality, improve nutritional values, and support local agriculture.  This has been written up extensively and it's a win/win for everyone.  And the kids like the food better, which if nothing else is another measure of success.

    The bottom line is:  intelligent management vs. check-box management.  The lazy manager checks the boxes and considers the job done, because they've done what "everyone else" did.  The intelligent manager understands the operational details of what they're managing and knows where to look for improvements.  

    The only area where it's worthwhile to outsource municipal work is where there would be less than a full-time job or where the infrastructure requirements aren't realistic to meet.  A small town can't hire a full-time microbiologist and equip a food safety lab, so that work can be hired out.  But on the other hand, a cluster of small towns could, if they wanted to.  Somewhere in between, there's room for private contractors to provide food safety testing.  

    But as for the bulk of municipal jobs: public safety, sanitation, education, libraries, parks & rec, maintenance and management, etc.: there is no advantage to contracting out.  

    "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

    by G2geek on Tue Oct 02, 2012 at 10:07:36 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Excellent points... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...Just to re-affirm what you mentioned about police equipment:  yes, small departments often piggyback onto larger department contracts in order to get bulk price breaks.  When the CHP went from Kawasaki to BMW motorcycles, you might have noticed that many of the municipal agencies made the same change, and local and county officers were riding Bimmers just like the Chippies.  That's because those smaller agencies piggybacked their orders on the CHP contract.  They got better bikes at a better price thanks to the purchasing power of the CHP.  

      One thing I will say though regarding your "intelligent management vs. check-box management" idea.  You are right of course, but the thing to remember is how difficult it can be for good management decisions to be implemented at the government level.  As a person who has worked both in private and government sectors, I can attest to that.  In the private sector, when I or someone on my team isolated a way to do something more efficiently and cheaply, we'd point it out, come up with an alternate idea, make a case for doing it, and the company would often approve.  We'd then embark on the project of doing it.  In the private sector, management has full authority to make changes from the top-down.  To change the software, to change the process flow.  They don't have to worry about what everyone else is doing, at least to a certain degree.  

      But in government -- especially higher level (I primarily worked at the state level) it's way more complicated to make any change.  Not one department can make a unilateral change, because what they do affects another agency.  e.g.:  On one job I worked as a consultant for the state Department of Justice, we found many duplications of effort, and proposed that the computer software be re-written to allow that work to be done once only, and to have that work propagated to other divisions that needed the info.  We were shot down on that because the process the DOJ was using was dictated by the needs of other agencies, such as local police departments, the department of corrections, the FBI and other federal agencies.  

      Thus, the DOJ, while they realized the potential for savings, did not have the unilateral authority to change its own processes!  Likewise, Corrections could not make a unilateral change in its system because of the needs of DOJ.  It gets even more convoluted when you work your way though the agencies into divisions, bureaus and departments.  Now, take that and extrude it into the realm of local, county, state and federal government -- all of whom rely on each other for some piece of the pie, and it gets exponentially worse.  Counties can't change something because the state needs it a certain way.  The state can't change anything because the county does it this way, and the Feds do it another way.  

      One particular example I know of that shows how the private sector can sometimes help is the system that tracks parolees and people on probations across states.  There are thousands such people in all 50 states, and they often have travel restrictions as a condition of parole or probation.  Sometimes, they need to travel for legitimate reasons and can ask for a travel permit from their agent.  Four states away, they are stopped for a burnt out tail light.  NCIC shows the person is on parole and prohibited from leaving his home state.  He insists he has a travel permit from his agent, and shows it to the cop.  But, the cop cannot verify it because his state's computer cannot talk to the parolee's state's computer, and he can't contact the agent because it's 2am on a Saturday morning and he's not answering his pager.  The parolee gets to sit in a holding cell until the travel permit is verified.  

      So how do you get 50 states' computer systems to communicate with 49 others in real time, in two directions when you're dealing with a mix of systems ranging from the latest version of Oracle to AS400, to legacy flat-file systems, to home-brewed systems designed in the 70s?  

      You don't.  ;)  

      You hire a private corporation to setup a unified system that parole and probation agents in all 50 states enter travel permits into.  It's paid for by all the states that use it, since it's not fair for one state to bear the cost of such a system alone.  And that's what they did.  And it works pretty well.   Now, the police officer can have his dispatcher look in this private database system and verify the travel permit is legit, and our parolee goes on his way with a fix-it ticket for a burned out headlight at worst.  


      •  OK, but that's building fire engines. (3+ / 0-)

        Data communication, database, and data exchange functions: all that infrastructure is just like fire engines and probably best designed & built by private companies that are specialized for that purpose.  

        IMHO there need to be federal standards in place for all of that, and those standards need to be implemented all the way down to the local level.  

        But the people who use and manage those systems can all be hired by their respective gov agencies.  They don't have to be employees of the contractor, aside from some specific technical personnel who maintain the systems.  

        (The one exception of course is voting: there is no software-based system that is immune to attack, therefore the only acceptable option is a return to universal paper ballots, counted manually, with the entire counting process broadcast in realtime on the internet so citizens can watch & verify.  If that means we wait a day for results, fine.  Impatience is not an excuse for an absence of security in one of our nation's most vital functions.)  

        "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

        by G2geek on Tue Oct 02, 2012 at 11:57:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But it's kinda not building a firetruck... (0+ / 0-)

          It's more like deciding to not buy a new, high speed fire truck that can fight five times as many fires in half the time with half the water and a quarter of the diesel fuel, all because the agency that maintains hydrants can't afford to change the fittings on them to work with your new firetruck.

          That is the problem that hamstrings governments at all levels and prevents them from adopting new things that they know will be better only if they could...

          And the federal government coming in and dictating a new standard for fire hydrants to be compatible with high-speed fire trucks is fine, as long as they want pay for it. If they aren't, then you're going to get workarounds that are put together on a shoestring budget.  And your fire department is going to work like the other agencies I've seen with my own eyes:  you're going to have one tiny little part of the agency that is using the latest, greatest, cheapest, most efficient system with the other vacuum-tube crap from the 1950s duct taped to the back of it.  And you're not going to get the efficiency from the new high tech system, cause it's still dependent on the vacuum tubes to work.  

          I went to college over 20 years ago.  When I worked in  government, I found them relying on systems that were programmed in languages that were obsolete when I was in college.  One system literally started out on punchcards, and was still in use.  They couldn't replace it because they didn't have the money, and because shutting it off would have broken things three states away, and nobody was 100% sure what they were.  

          One server was so old that nobody knew how to re-start it, or if it would re-start at all.  After 9/11 when the government declared that all such critical systems be moved to a "high-security" data facility (earthquake proof, flood proof, bomb-proof, tornado proof, airplane proof with multiply-redundant power supplies and data links), they actually removed it together with its battery backup system and hooked the thing up to a generator so they could leave it running on the truck as it was being delivered to the new data center.  LOL  It was quite a site to see.

          Don't get me wrong:  I'm not saying privatization can fix those kinds of issues.  They can be just helpful in some cases (even it it's a temporary fix).  The point was to be cautious about having faith in the ability of government agencies to make significant systemic changes to become more efficient.  Making changes in government is far more complicated than doing so in the private sector, and it's not the fault of the people who work there.  Most of them are dealing with systems and processes that were put into place before they were even born, and that's the type of inertia that can make even the most minor change impossible.  To make our system as efficient and "real-time" as a Scandinavian country's would take massive system-wide effort, and massive funding.  I'm not opposed to that at all: it would be great for the economy.  But until we are willing to do that, it probably ain't gonna happen.    


          •  great, let's do it. (3+ / 0-)

            BTW, there used to be this thing called the Bell Telephone System.  It ran the USA's part of the global decentralized nervous system of its day, and it functioned perfectly.

            If we still had the Bell, and it was running those .gov networks, there would not be a problem.  Bell and GTE ran AUTOVON and AUTODIN (AUTODIN preceded ARPANET, and also functioned flawlessly), during the height of the Cold War.  If it's good enough for times when nuclear war was a constant threat, it's good enough for today.

            In lieu of that, at some point it's going to be necessary to issue federal standards and then fund & force compliance all the way down to the municipal level.  Yes that'll be a techie boom in its own right: wonderful!  That along with clean energy construction, could be the thing that brings back the middle class.   It's about time...!

            "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

            by G2geek on Tue Oct 02, 2012 at 01:05:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Knock yourself out! (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              trueblueliberal, Dirtandiron

              I got out of that business years ago after I realized it's not healthy to wake up in the morning and think non-stop about how much you hate your career and that if you're lucky a Mack truck will take you out on the morning commute.  Nor is it normal to wake up on Saturday morning and have the first thing to cross your mind be "Fuck, only 48 hours until I have to go back there!"  

              I'm willing to chip in with the tax dollars and moral support, though.  


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