Public, private

Privatizing government functions as a way to save taxpayer money could have some unintended consequences.

March 12, 2011


Facing a $492 million revenue shortfall in the next fiscal year, Kansas lawmakers are looking for dollars just about everywhere.

So it’s no wonder that statehouse discussions have turned to whether it makes financial sense to privatize some governmental functions. Some legislators are pushing proposals that would require the state to undertake two yearlong studies focused on outsourcing government functions.

One proposal calls for setting up an 11-member council on privatization that would look at the issue and report to the 2012 session of the Legislature. The House has approved establishment of such a committee; the Senate has taken no action. Legislators who support the move say it has the backing of Gov. Sam Brownback. Creation of the council has drawn criticism in some circles from folks worried about actually growing government.

The privatization idea also is stretching to higher education.

Rep. Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, wants the Kansas Board of Regents to look at everything from selling or leasing residence halls to contracting with private companies to provide janitorial services on campuses. McLeland believes the Regents institutions should focus their energies and their dollars on their primary mission: educating students.

On its face, outsourcing government functions to the private sector appears to be a logical move. It’s often said that business can do things more efficiently — faster and for less money — than government can. Outsourcing sometimes works well, as it did a number of years ago when Kansas University achieved significant savings by privatizing its printing service.

However, the move to privatization could bring some unintended consequences, including the possibility of increased cronyism, as the state gets into the business of awarding huge contracts. It would require significant oversight to ensure that lawmakers and others in state government were not repaying political favors as they awarded governmental contracts.

A move to privatization would have a significant impact on a large portion of the workforces in Lawrence, Topeka and other Kansas communities where government jobs are plentiful. There’s also the question of how the state would ensure that private contractors provide an acceptable level of service for jobs currently performed by state employees over whom the state has direct responsibility.

If the prime motivation for privatizing government duties is money, why can’t state government show some self-discipline and save money by tightening its own belt and finding efficiencies? Rather than just turning the job over to private companies in the hope of saving money, maybe the state would be better off taking direct action to save taxpayers money by making its own operations more efficient.


Zazzman 7 years, 2 months ago

Yes. lets sell off all the state assets now, so the companies that now hold a monopoly on those services can charge us out the @$$ for their use later. It sounds perfect!

Private colleges are a real problem. While they graduate 10% of the students, they use 50% of the financial aid. They demand more from our government systems to give students laughable skills. Is this really the model for "success" when Kansas Universities are already world renowned in several fields?

If anything is broken, it's that students get charged a small mortgage to go to school - and privatizing colleges is NOT going to fix that.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 2 months ago

Interesting how the editorial writer carefully said "increased" cronyism, knowing that cronyism already exists.

Zazzman 7 years, 2 months ago

And how do you suggest we fix that? Deregulation, so that Cronies are more free to exploit people? That's what your CATO institute suggests.

cato_the_elder 7 years, 2 months ago

I have no connection with the Cato Institute.

Jan Rolls 7 years, 2 months ago

Sure the gov approves. Why wouldn't he knowing that the "coke" brothers are waiting in the wings. He has to pay them back somehow.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

"On its face, outsourcing government functions to the private sector appears to be a logical move. It’s often said that business can do things more efficiently"

Yes, we hear that truism ad nauseam. But the fact is that whether government or the private sector is better equipped to fulfill any particular function needs to be determined on a case by case basis. And accepting as gospel truth that government is always inefficient, and the private sector is always efficient and perfect in every way will not provide a useful basis for making that case by case determination.

And besides, while maximizing efficiency is always a worthy goal, it is not the only thing that needs to be considered.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

Two things--

Quite often, those road crews are not state employees. They're employees of the companies to which the project has been contracted. Would you take this as evidence that government employees would do it more efficiently?

On projects such as these, certain tasks require a lot of people much of the time, but not all of those people all of the time. If you drive by when not all of them are visibly busy, it might give the impression that they aren't necessary to the project. But the fact is, if you reduce the size of the crew, there would be many tasks that couldn't be completed in a timely fashion. And we all know how much we hate getting held up by road construction.

Looks to me that you really don't understand "efficiency" very well.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 2 months ago

It worked so well with the army and contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.... NOT!

Crazy_Larry 7 years, 2 months ago

Here's a special case of privatization I'd like to point to; the privatization of the military over the last 20 years... Our military now pays contractors to do work usually tasked to the common soldier; tasks such as escort convoys, serve food, etc. The lower enlisted soldiers are paid around $25K per year and the contractors are making $100K (plus) a year. How's that saving tax dollars?? I don't believe it is. I do believe it is making a lot of rich people richer, i.e. Haliburton, KBR, Blackwater (Xi), etc.

Let's start a war!

Crazy_Larry 7 years, 2 months ago

Just don't drink the water!

"Dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using "unmonitored and potentially unsafe" water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, the Pentagon's internal watchdog says."


Bush Says Halliburton Will Have to Repay Any Overcharges

"a Pentagon audit that has found that Halliburton may indeed have overcharged the government by some $61 million for fuel deliveries."


equalaccessprivacy 7 years, 2 months ago

Enough cronyism already--it just adds to the intolerable burden of injustice, official silence, and generally ignorant social atmosphere in KS that must compete well with the same in Ole Miss.

verity 7 years, 2 months ago

"Outsourcing sometimes works well, as it did a number of years ago when Kansas University achieved significant savings by privatizing its printing service."

First off, I agree with most of the editorial---it is thoughtful and well reasoned.

However, from some inside knowledge, I personally don't believe that KU saved as much money as they claimed by "privatizing . . . printing service." The so-called "bottom line" often does not include everything that actually factors into costs and is easily manipulated to get the results one wants. I fear that the proposed study on privatization would tell the legislators exactly what they want to hear.

The idea of privatization often seems to be ideologically driven, rather than logically.

gccs14r 7 years, 2 months ago

How about if we outsource the Legislature, instead? Let the Bavarians have a crack at it.

barlowtl 7 years, 2 months ago

Indiana privatized their interstate toll road across the northern part of the state with a 99 yr lease. Supposedly the money they received would go toward upgrading highways. The road is not kept up, toll booths are unmanned so you had better have a pass or be sure your credit card is compatible. Also the toll rates have increased substantially so the semi's get off at Ohio border & take state highway 120, a 2 lane road that goes thru every town & tear up the road. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Now Mitch Daniels is considering raising the gasoline tax to help with the highway upkeep. I wonder what that interstate will look like when the lease is up but we can let our grandkids worry bout that.

Jan Rolls 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm of the opinion that the LJW is afraid of the republicans. Saturday 80 to 100,000 people gathered in protest in Madison and although it is national news, not one word on this site. They could have easily picked up the story off the wire but apparently chose not to.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

Go read some of Dolph's editorials and it is pretty apparent the LJW is just an arm of the right wing's mainstream media propaganda effort.

For the time being it is still possible to speak the truth here in these forums, however, so the LJW bias is not completely effective.

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