In order to keep the doors open and make a living, the owner of a private business must constantly be on the lookout for ways to streamline operations and keep the company running at peak efficiency. He or she must investigate the practicality of cost-cutting, downsizing, outsourcing, competitive bidding, upgrading technology, and many other methods to keep the bottom line healthy. But what does the government need to do to stay in business? As long as it can convince citizens to authorize taxes, its future is assured. A private business must pay attention to customer service, always keeping in mind that if it doesn’t please the public, they will take their dollars elsewhere. Anyone who believes that customer service pressures apply to the public sector need only consider these three letters: DMV. No further argument is necessary in this regard.
Occasionally, a government agency makes an effort to analyze the services it provides to see if these activities are being conducted efficiently. Sometimes, if taxpayers get lucky, bureaucrats actually institute a reform or two. I am happy to report that such an initiative is being undertaken at the state level by the Governor’s Steering Committee to Conduct a Fundamental Review of State Government. The steering committee’s task is to monitor the basic, major, and interagency reviews of state agencies, to evaluate the suggestions received on improving state government, and to develop recommendations for the governor.
In a lengthy session held over two days in October, the committee came up with several noteworthy recommendations. Its recommendation number 10 is: “The submittal of a Bill Draft Request (BDR) to the 2001 Legislature to replace the State Printing Division with a nonprofit corporation, with the requirement that state agencies must allow State Printing to bid on all agency printing projects (see Administration BDR 568).” When then-governor Bob Miller proposed reorganizing state government in 1993, a study of operations revealed that costs for printing jobs performed by the State Printing Office (SPO) tended to be significantly higher than what it would have cost to get the work done by private companies. In addition, many jobs could not be completed within the specified time limit. Put another way, market forces were not operating to make the SPO efficient, because it didn’t have any competition.
The committee’s recommendation repeals the mandate that all printing jobs for state agencies be performed by the SPO, and lets private companies bid on these jobs. We agree with the committee’s position on this issue, and also agree with the opinion of committee chairwoman Denice Miller, senior policy advisor to the governor, who stated that competition encourages efficiency and promotes excellence. We suggest the committee dig deeper into other examples of state government-sanctioned monopolies and make the same recommendations for them as well.
The committee’s recommendation number 19 “requires the Department of Administration to evaluate the use of heavy equipment by state agencies and set up criteria to determine the budgetary cost benefit of lease versus purchase of equipment.” A statewide standard was suggested to evaluate whether a specific type of equipment should be purchased or leased. Since most larger pieces of equipment are not used every day, an analysis would break down costs by hourly usage. This makes good business sense, and is the type of thing the owner of a private enterprise would consider before spending his own hard-earned dollars on equipment.
Recommendation number 53 proposes replacing the existing Housing Division with a nonprofit corporation similar to the federal government-sponsored enterprises with similar missions, e.g., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Several states have successfully privatized their housing agencies in similar forms.
We applaud the work of the Governor’s Steering Committee to Conduct a Fundamental Review of State Government, and suggest an ongoing fundamental review is exactly what is needed. It is also important that taxpayers maintain their own vigil on the workings of the government at all levels to make sure their tax dollars are being spent wisely.